Coronavirus: Ireland to close all schools and colleges until end of March over COVID-19

Alan McGuinness, news reporter

All schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland will close tomorrow until the end of the month, the country's leader has said.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar made the announcement, saying the measures to combat the spread of coronavirus will remain in place until 29 March.

He made a live statement to the nation from Washington DC, where he is due to meet President Donald Trump as part of the annual St Patrick's Day programme of events.

Mr Varadkar said the action had to be taken to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 , the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"We are a great nation and we have overcome many trials in the past with our determination, and we will prevail again," he said.

Mr Varadakar said that acting as one nation could save lives and that the economy will suffer, but "we can bounce back".

He added: "I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it's going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives, and I know I am asking people to make enormous sacrifices.

"But we are doing it for each other - together we can slow the virus in its tracks and push it back."

He told the nation that many more people in Ireland would get coronavirus and would get sick, adding: "Unfortunately we must face the tragic reality that some people will die," he said.

Other key coronavirus developments include:

While schools and colleges are closed, teaching will be done online or remotely.

In addition, indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor meetings of more than 500 will be cancelled.

Cultural institutions will also be shut.

However, public transport will operate as normal and shops will remain open. Restaurants and cafes likewise, although they should try to implement official advice on social distancing.

Mr Varadkar said that people would be encouraged to work from home, but where people do congregate in offices, break times should be "staggered".

Meetings should be done remotely but restaurants, cafes and other businesses can stay open, he added.

"People should seek to reduce social interactions as much as possible," Mr Varadkar said.

People entering the country will be told about the new measures and asked to self-isolate if they begin displaying symptoms.

Mr Varadkar said he was acting on new advice from the country's National Public Health Emergency Team.

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He said the government had a duty to protect those most at risk from coronavirus, such as older people and those with underlying conditions.

Health minister Simon Harris said the government was asking older people to reduce their contacts outside their homes.

He added that Ireland had officially moved to the "delay" phase of its response to COVID-19, which aims to reduce the peak impact of the virus and slow its spread.

"We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory and this is uncharted territory for us," Mr Varadkar said.

"We said we would take the right actions at the right time and we have to move now to have the greatest impact."

Experts have warned that the UK should not blindly follow the approach taken in Ireland as it could reduce the number of NHS workers available to tackle the outbreak as well as increase the risk of infections to the elderly.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said "the UK should adopt UK-appropriate measures and not give in to the demand for something to be done".

He added: "Different countries are at different stages of the epidemic so what one country should do will not apply to others, we need to be guided by the local epidemiology and the science."

He said health and social care workers will be forced to look after their own children if schools and universities were closed.

It could also lead to a rise in childcare being delivered by grandparents - people in an age group that are at a "much greater risk", Prof Neal said.