Ireland’s St Patrick’s parades cancelled over COVID-19 concerns

Irish Prime Minister, Taisoeach Leo Varadkar speaks to media as he arrives at the second day of a Special European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium, 21 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

St Patrick’s day festivities have been cancelled all over the Republic of Ireland, amid rising concerns over the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced on Monday (9 March).

As part of the measures, four mass gatherings in Dublin have been shelved, as well as all St Patrick’s day parades around the country that had been scheduled to take place between March 13 and 17.

Announcing the cancellation of the plans on Twitter, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “St Patrick’s Day parades, including the Dublin parade, will not proceed. This is based on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.”

He added that the current situation with regards to smaller events in the country is currently under review and “will be guided by public health advice.”

Speaking to reporters, Varadkar warned that should some of the estimates ring true, Ireland’s health service infrastructure could be in for a shock.

“What we have seen from what is available at the moment, is that we could we could easily have 50 or 60% of our population contracting Covid-19,” he said.

“For the vast majority of the population this will be a mild illness and may even by asymptomatic. However, there will be a significant part of the population who will require critical care. A percentage that we don’t honestly know yet – it could be 1% or 3% – mortality.”

Varadkar added that even if the health service was “twice the size” it is now, it would still struggle to deal with the numbers.

A statement from St Patrick’s day festival organisers on Monday evening (9 March) called for “understanding” and “patience” as they “endeavour to communicate with the thousands of participants from home and abroad who are involved in the events which are not proceeding.”

As it currently stands, Ireland remains relatively well-protected from the virus, with 24 positive cases having been identified in the Republic, a rise of 3 people on Monday.  The Health Service Executive is understood to be working diligently to identify possible contacts the most recent infectees may have had.

“While Ireland remains in a containment phase, we will eventually move to delay phase and then on to mitigation phase,” the Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said at a news briefing yesterday.

“Containment is about identifying and containing all cases no matter how mild. The delay phase will focus on minimising the spread of the virus. Ultimately, in mitigation phase, we prioritise the cases that are most unwell.”

To mitigate some of the anticipated risks of the growing coronavirus outbreak, the Irish government has announced a €3 billion outlay. €2.4 billion has been sidelined to help with costs associated with an expected increase in sick pay and illness benefits, with €200m put aside to help businesses with short-term shocks resulting from coronavirus disruptions and €435 million for the Health Service Executive to deal with the emergency measures.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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