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Coronavirus deaths will only increase in coming weeks, Taoiseach warns

  • Taoiseach says ICUs will be at capacity within days

  • Expresses sympathy for those who have died here

  • Wishes British Prime Minister a 'speedy recovery'

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27/03/2020 Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar pictured this afternoon during a visit to Total Produce Food in Swords this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

27/03/2020 Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar pictured this afternoon during a visit to Total Produce Food in Swords this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Colin Keegan

27/03/2020 Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar pictured this afternoon during a visit to Total Produce Food in Swords this afternoon...Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said that deaths from coronavirus in Ireland will only increase over the next two to four weeks and that it will be a "very pleasant surprise" if the toll is kept below 1,000.

The Taoiseach said the death toll is "impossible to predict" as the virus is new and "we're only still learning about it".

"If you take the average flu season in Ireland, there'll be roughly 500 deaths. If you take a bad flu season in Ireland, there'd be roughly 1,000 deaths.

"So it would be a surprise, and a very pleasant surprise if the number of deaths at the end of this is less than 1,000," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar also said that Intensive Care Units (ICUs) will be full in the coming days but the health service is working to increase capacity.

He said his thoughts are with the families of the latest victims of coronavirus in Ireland -the death toll more than doubled to 19 when ten fatalities were announced last night.

There is also concern about the high level of patients requiring ICU care and clusters of cases in nursing homes.

Mr Varadkar said he is concerned about the ICU situation but said any new restrictions on the public in an effort to counter the spread of the disease will only be implemented on the advice of the the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

He said that at present there are empty ICU beds but they "will be at capacity within a few days."

"That's already the case across Europe. It looks like it may happen here so we need to plan for that. We have to make sure that we have backup ICU capacity, ventilators... all of those things."

He said the health service is making an unprecedented effort to "tool up", recruit and provide additional capacity but warned "we're going to be managing a very difficult situation".

Mr Varadkar said the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths in Ireland "can only increase over the next two to four weeks."

"The objective is to slow down the rate at which it increases, get to the peak and then start getting it down and that start returning the country to some degree of normality."

Mr Varadkar wished British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a "speedy recovery" from his coronavirus case. He did not criticise the UK response to the virus which has been accused of being slower than many other countries.

He said: "I don't want to criticise any government's handling of this.

"This is new this is unprecedented, the science is changing and evolving all the time. I'm absolutely sure that every government, every health service in the world, is doing their best with the best information they have."

Mr Varadkar has previously spoken of how so-called 'cocooning' is likely to be introduced for older people and those at most risk from the virus.

Again he said this will only be brought in on the advice of the NPHET.

He said: "Cocooning involves asking people above a certain age, and people with a chronic illness to stay at home for a period of weeks.

"To a certain extent people are doing that anyway and that is good advice anyway."

He said if it is to be implemented "we need to make sure that it's done properly and the systems are in place.

"We don't want anybody staying at home for 12 weeks, if we don't have the assurance that they have food, that they have somebody to check on them. "All of those things need to be put in place."

Mr Varadkar added: "But as things stand, you know, it's good advice, particularly for people who are over 75 particularly for people who have a chronic illness, to stay indoors, to stay at home and only to leave the house when it's absolutely necessary."

Mr Varadkar made the remarks after a visit to the Total Produce food wholesaler depot in Swords.

The Taoiseach and Business Minister Heather Humphreys were told there is a strong supply chain in place to keep supermarket shelves stocked.

Mr Varadkar pointed out afterwards that Ireland has the capacity to produce food for 40m people.

Online Editors