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Coronavirus Ireland: St Patrick's Day festival set to go ahead as Taoiseach confirms no cancellation of planned large gatherings

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St Patrick’s Day Festival (stock picture)

St Patrick’s Day Festival (stock picture)

St Patrick’s Day Festival (stock picture)

The Government is not "at this stage" recommending the cancellation of mass public gatherings amid the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking at government buildings this evening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government would continue to evaluate the situation.

He said: "We are not recommending at this stage that any major events be cancelled, but this of course will be kept under review."

It's believed that the upcoming St Patrick's Day festival will go ahead amid the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Varadkar made the announcement this evening as 13 people are confirmed to have the virus in Ireland.

More than 500,000 people are expected to visit Ireland for the lavish March 17 events. Pressure was mounting on whether such major public gatherings should take place given that Covid-19 has now reached community spread levels.

Mr Varadkar said it is "inevitable" that many people will contract the coronavirus in the coming days, weeks and months but for the "vast majority" it will be a mild illness.

He said Ireland is still in the containment phase and any actions that are taken "will be proportionate and will be in line with medical and scientific advice".

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan pictured outside Government buildings 
Picture: Gerry Mooney

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan pictured outside Government buildings Picture: Gerry Mooney

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan pictured outside Government buildings Picture: Gerry Mooney

He pointed people to the HSE website for guidance and added: "We’d also ask people not to act unilaterally whether that’s school principals or crèche owners or business owners or event organisers because that causes problems in itself. We need to act in concert and if the response needs to be escalated we should escalate it all together."

He said: "We’re not recommending at this stage that any major events be cancelled but that of course will be kept under review."

And Mr Varadkar reiterated "simple advice" to wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water.

He was joined by Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan who responded to questions on when any decision to cancel the St Patrick's Day festivities would have to be taken.

Mr Holohan refused to be drawn on whether this could be as late as the day before saying that if there is "appropriate public health advice is in relation to an event – and I’m not specifically talking about St Patick’s Day – we’ll make that advice available."

Mr Varadkar said that there's no overflow of patients at the moment other than "underlying capacity problems" in hospitals.

He said the HSE has been authorised to open extra intensive care unit beds - though such beds have not yet been needed - and "discussions are underway with the private hospitals to use their capacity too."

On the issue of whether of not flights to an from Italy - the worst-affected country in Europe - should be restricted Mr Varadkar said the "best advice" is that this would be likely to be "ineffective".

He said the same applies to passenger screening at airports.

"It may be the case that in some parts of the world people are engaging in those actions but the best scientific advice we have at the moment is that those kinds of actions are not effective and there’s not point in taking actions that are not effective," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar also raised the prospect of enlisting retired doctors and nurses to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak if there is serious pressure on the health service.

The Taoiseach’s comments come as 60 staff members at Cork University Hospital are in self-isolation after a case of community transmitted Covid-19 was identified in a patient there.

He said: “What we may have to do is ask people who are retired healthcare professionals to come back into service if there are significant pressures on our health service in the weeks ahead.”

Mr Varadkar said work on this will be carried out over the weekend.

He added: “Also by Monday we should have a clear solution on what we’re going to do in providing income supports to workers who are asked to self isolate.”

He said: “we want to make sure that nobody who is given medical advice and told to self-isolate doesn’t do so for fear of financial loss.”

Mr Varadkar also said that he still intends to travel to the United States for his White House meeting with President Donald Trump next week.

Earlier today, Youghal in Co Cork confirmed it had cancelled its scheduled parade - traditionally one of the biggest parades in the county outside Cork city.

In a statement, the Youghal organisers said that: "With deep regret Youghal4All has found themselves in the position of having to cancel the St Patrick's Day parade due to our concerns about Covid-19."

The organisers said that while the event was an important part of the Youghal social and cultural calendar, public health and safety had to be paramount.

"We would like to apologise to the public, clubs, groups, societies and businesses affected by this decision but we feel we must act in the best interests of public health and safety."

The decision by the Cork town will now increase pressure on other Irish towns and cities to reconsider their St Patrick's Day parades.

The Chinese Ambassador to Ireland He Xiangdong warned earlier this week that banning public gatherings was a key part of his country's response to the virus.

He warned that some "hard decisions" had to be made - and he urged Ireland to take a considered decision on the matter.

Online Editors