Acting Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe has denied claims circulating online that the Defence Forces are about to be deployed onto the streets as Ireland enters the next phase of a 'lock-down' to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Minister Kehoe had been in the US last week, on his way to Savannah, Georgia, to take part in St Patrick's Day festivities, when the escalation of the coronavirus scare hit at home.
'I was in Atlanta and I was due to head down to Savannah today (Monday),' he said. 'Instead we were told to get home right away. In America they are taking the same kind of action as we are here in terms of shutting things down and avoiding social gatherings etc.'
Upon his return, the Minister returned to find the rumour mill in overdrive with the phrase 'lock-down' on everyone's lips. Speaking of messages to this end circulating on social media, he slammed them as being false and unhelpful, saying that Ireland was not at this stage yet.
'There is a lot of fake news going around and a huge amount of misinformation,' he said. 'The Defence Forces will be involved in the fight back against covid-19, but it will be to assist the HSE and other state agencies. We have a lot of great resources that can be put to good use like drivers and engineers etc. Currently, we have 80 cadets assisting the HSE in the tracing centre, contacting people who may have come in contact with confirmed cases of covid-19.'
Asked whether there was any inclination that the army may be deployed on the streets around the country going forward in an escalation of containment measures, Minister Kehoe replied: 'As this heightens, the Defence Forces will be deployed in different areas across multiple state agencies. Whether we will see soldiers on the street or anything like that is a matter for the Chief Medical Officer and the cabinet sub committee. At the moment, we're not at that stage. There's no "lock-down" or anything like that. What does that even mean? People will still have to be able to go out and get food and essential services. All I would ask is that people adhere to the messages coming from the government. We all need to fight this together and heed the warnings.'
In terms of our economy, coronavirus is likely to have a devastating impact. With pubs and businesses across the county and country closing their doors in a bid to limit social interaction, many people are now finding themselves laid off until the dust settles.
'This will have huge consequences for the economy,' Minister Kehoe conceded. 'It's going to be absolutely catastrophic. I believe we are a lot better prepared and are more ahead of the curve than China or Italy were for this, but how long will it take? Nobody knows. This will cost billions. That's just the way it is. There's no money coming in and only money going out. People aren't spending because they aren't leaving the house. Fifty to eighty thousand people will be presenting as unemployed this morning (Monday) as a result of the closure of pubs and the impact on the hospitality sector. I know that government Ministers are currently meeting with the banks to ask them to accommodate people as far as they can. The only way out of this is to work together and ask banks and businesses to play their part as well.'