'Calm before the storm' Leo Varadkar says coronavirus outbreak could continue for months
"This is the calm before the storm, before the surge, and it will come."
Leo Varadkar has said that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to continue beyond March 29, and even into the summer months.
Addressing the nation this evening in a special St Patrick's Day broadcast, the Taoiseach said that cases of coronavirus in Ireland are expected to increase to 15,000 over the next month.
He added that in order to slow the spread of the virus, the country needs to "work together."
"In years to come, they will say of us: when things were at their worst, we were at our best," he said.
Mr Varadkar paid tribute to the healthcare workers who have been working round the clock to tackle the virus, as well as those who have been practising social distancing and self isolation.
"Our country is making big demands of our healthcare staff and big demands of every single one of us," he said.
"Tonight, I want you to know why these actions are being taken, what more needs to be done. We are in the middle of a global and national emergency, a pandemic the likes of which none of us has seen before.
"So far the number of cases in Ireland has been relatively small, however we believe the number will rise to 15,000 cases or more by the end of the month and rise further in the weeks thereafter."
Mr Varadkar said that he didn't know when "this would be over," but that the pandemic will likely continue on beyond March 29.
"It could go on for months into the summer, so we need to be sensible in the approach we take," he said.
"I know these choices won't be easy, but they are necessary.
"We're asking people to come together as a nation by staying apart from each other (...) This is the calm before the storm, before the surge, and it will come."
Mr Varadkar added that the most basic messages around washing your hands properly, and practicing good hygiene around sneezing and coughing, are still the most important.
He said that at some point, the Government will advise the elderly and vulnerable to stay home for many weeks.
"We're putting in place the systems to ensure that if you are one of them you will have food supplies and are checked on," he said.
"We call this 'cocooning' and it will save many lives, particularly the lives of the most vulnerable – the most precious in our society.
"I know it's going to be very difficult to stay apart from our loved ones, most grandparents just want to give their grandchildren a big hug and a kiss around about now. But as hard as it is, we need to keep our physical distance to stop the virus.
"I know many of you are feeling scared and overwhelmed, that's a normal reaction. But we will get through this and we will prevail.
"I want to send a message to the world: we are in this together (...) Viruses pay no attention to borders, race, nationality or gender. They are a shared enemy of all humanity."
This is the seventh time in the country's history that such an address has been made.
Ahead of this evening's broadcast, Mr Varadkar said that he wanted to prioritise the public's health.
"This is a Patrick’s Day like no other," he wrote on Twitter.
"We cannot stop the virus but we can push it back. We will always put your life and your health first. In future let them say: when things were at their worst, we were at our best."
Tonight at 9 I’ll speak to you on @RTE and @VirginMedia_One. This is a Patrick’s Day like no other. We cannot stop the virus but we can push it back. We will always put your life and your health first. In future let them say: when things were at their worst, we were at our best
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) March 17, 2020
Cases of coronavirus in the Republic of Ireland increased by a record 69 cases today. This comes after Croke Park opened as a drive-thru testing centre yesterday.
The death toll in Ireland stands at two.