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This is now a global war, and our actions show that we intend to fight it head on

Simon Harris


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Danger: The presence of Covid-19 will be felt across the country for months to come. Photo: Reuters

Danger: The presence of Covid-19 will be felt across the country for months to come. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Danger: The presence of Covid-19 will be felt across the country for months to come. Photo: Reuters

Solidarity and community spirit are hallmarks of the Irish character and we need them now more than ever.

I am very aware that the protective measures we took yesterday came as a shock to many of you and I know they will lead to disruption, change and unfamiliar behaviour.

I am conscious that there are people this morning who will be grappling with rearranging their routines, others facing difficult decisions and many who have spent hours worrying for themselves and their loved ones.

I have always made it clear that we will take the right measures at the right time and for the right length of time.

Now is that time.

On Wednesday, the National Public Health Emergency Team sat for over four hours and late into the night, reviewing the latest expert advice and the pattern of cases occurring in Ireland.

The decisions they recommended to us in the early hours of yesterday morning were not taken lightly. We accepted the expert advice and worked overnight to turn those decisions into actions.

We have always said measures like this might become necessary. The world is fighting a war against Covid-19 and we must fight it head-on. The protective measures we are implementing give Ireland our best chance in winning this battle. The measures will be in place until March 29 and will be kept under constant review.

This will be a challenging period of time for us all but one we can get through if we work together and do everything we can to protect the older and more vulnerable members of our communities. For these groups, we are advising that they limit contacts outside their own homes as much as possible. I don't want any older person to fear isolation or loneliness.

We are working hard to ensure you will not be alone. We will tap into the many community organisations across this country to ensure you are cared for and we will provide more health services at home. But we also need families, friends and neighbours to be conscious and caring of the groups who will need to spend most time at home, and to provide as much support as possible.

We are asking everyone to reduce their contacts as much as possible. We need you to avoid crowded places and try to keep a distance of two metres between you and others, while not shaking hands and washing them frequently.

While children typically cope well with the virus, our experts have advised it is sensible to close schools, crèches and childcare facilities. Their concern is that many of our children could pick up the infection which they could pass on to their granny or granddad. It is also true that all parents will want to try to protect their children from contracting the virus, even if it may usually be mild for them.

We are asking a lot of parents therefore not only to make alternative arrangements to school and crèche but also to ensure their children limit contacts in the same way as everyone else.

While it will not be easy, we know we will see leadership from our schools and third-level institutions as they manage this period of closure.

Employers too, whether in the private or public sector, will have to be creative in facilitating these measures and the Government will provide all the guidance and support we can. I know self-employed people too and other businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, are in for a difficult period and the Government will continue to meet regularly with stakeholders to try to help as much as we can.

The measures we are taking are intended to help reduce pressure on our health service but we know this will not be enough. We are also working hard to increase capacity, providing additional resources and putting in place a new package of supports for family doctors.

Our health service staff deserve our unwavering support. Covid-19 has imposed itself on our lives and the truth is its presence will be felt across the country over the next few weeks and months.

But fewer of us will feel it more than those on the frontline - our GPs, nurses, doctors, porters, our support staff, paramedics. We must ensure we resource them and protect their health and their mental health.

I very much understand that for many people yesterday's announcement was very concerning and worrying but we have to remain calm as well as vigilant.

Businesses are working hard to ensure there will be no interruption to the supply chain and there is no reason to overrun supermarkets or pharmacies or to stockpile. We should be able to ensure we have what we need, but not more than we need, because that will only deprive others and unnecessarily disrupt the supply chain.

The truth is the decisions we are taking now are necessary but this will still get worse before it gets better. Many of us will become ill and, sadly, some of us will lose loved ones. But we can all play a part to reduce the risk to ourselves and our communities and I know Irish people will step up. Ireland has come through many challenges in our history and we will come through this one too. It will be difficult for a period of time but we will bounce back. The economy will suffer but it will recover.

The greatness of a community is most accurately judged by the actions of its members. Working together and caring for one another will be our greatest strength and our only chance of success.

Simon Harris is Health Minister

Irish Independent