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*Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Martin Connolly

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (FG) has warned that measures in place aimed at slowing down the spread of coronavirus could last until the summer months.

In a rallying cry, the Taoiseach appealed to the people of Ireland to show solidarity and to continue to practice proper social distancing. “This is a Saint Patrick’s Day like no other. A day that none of us will ever forget. Today’s children will tell their own children and grandchildren about the national holiday in 2020 that had no parades or parties but instead saw everyone staying at home to protect each other”.

Earlier on Tuesday, it was confirmed that there are 354 cases of coronavirus on the island of Ireland, 69 of which were new in the Republic. The Taoiseach in a state of the nation address warned that this figure will continue to rise and predicted the figure will hit 15,000 by the end of March. “We are in the middle of a global and national emergency, a pandemic that none of us have seen before”.

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“Many of you want to know when this will be over, the truth is we just don’t know yet,” Varadkar stated. He stated that it is possible the measures currently in place could last until the summer. Lack of physical contact must be maintained, he encouraged family members to embrace technology to stay in touch.

A new system called ‘cocooning’ is to be implemented, this will see the elderly and most vulnerable members of society kept at home. “At a certain point, we will advise the elderly and people who have a long-term illness to stay at home for several weeks. We are putting in place the systems to ensure that if you are one of them, you will have food, supplies and are checked on. We call this ‘cocooning’ and it will save many lives particularly the most vulnerable the most precious in our society.

Big demands were being made of health staff, the Taoiseach acknowledged. Of the frontline staff, he commented, “Not all superheroes wear capes, some wear scrubs and gowns”. He added, “This is the calm before the storm before the surge, when it comes and it will come, never will so many ask so much of so few”.

Income support is to be received “as quickly and as soon as possible” for individuals who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. He said this requires help from banks, Government bodies and utilities.

“We went into this crisis with a strong economy and the public finances in good order. We have the capacity and credit rating to borrow billions if we need to. I am confident that our economy will bounce back but the damage will be significant and lasting. The bill will be enormous and it may take years to pay it. The Government has already signed off a 3 billion euro package for health, social welfare and business, we will take further action as needed”.

Members of the public were advised to only follow trusted sources for updates surrounding coronavirus. “We need to halt the spread of the virus but we also need to halt the spread of fear. So please rely only on information from trusted sources. From Government from the HSE from the World Health Organisation and from the national media. Do not forward or share messages that are from other, unreliable sources. So much harm has already been caused by those messages and we must insulate our communities and the most vulnerable from the contagion of fear. Fear is a virus in itself”.

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