Dublin deserted as coronavirus dampens St. Patrick's Day

Dublin (AFP) –


Pubs were shuttered and pints left unpoured on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin Tuesday, as the Irish capital swapped its annual riot of celebration for "social distancing" designed to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The cobbled streets of Temple Bar -- usually the epicentre of celebrations -- were deserted.

"This place would be just swarming with people, the whole town would be," said Dubliner Anthony Whyte.

"It's like a ghost town. It's like armageddon," the 49-year-old told AFP.

Last week, Ireland's government cancelled St Patrick's parades nationwide, asked pubs to close and curbed gatherings of more than 100 individuals until March 29.

"Social distancing" -- remaining apart from others in public -- has also been strongly advised.

"On a day like St. Patrick's Day, you can really feel it," said Justin Sinnott, 44, strolling through abandoned streets with his young son on his shoulders.

Two people have died from coronavirus in Ireland, which has 223 confirmed cases so far.

Prime minister Leo Varadkar said he expected 15,000 cases in the country by the end of March.

- Lost jobs -

In central Dublin, St Patrick's Day decorations featuring brimming pints of Guinness, leprechauns and pots of gold found no customers to tempt.

In one open corner shop, staff wore face masks.

"Coronavirus/COVID-19 -- we are closed. Government + HSE (health service) advice," read a handwritten sign on one of the area's most popular drinking spots.

While most Irish citizens have lost a night on the town, others have felt the blow more dearly.

State broadcaster RTE estimated 140,000 hospitality and childcare workers have been laid off over government coronavirus measures.

"We're preparing for the worst," said tourism transport worker John Gately, cycling through central Dublin wearing protective blue rubber gloves.

The 30-year-old has not yet joined those laid off as a result of the coronavirus.

"It's a case of just battening down the hatches and trying to recover," he said. "This is totally unprecedented in my lifetime.

"I'm kind of fascinated and terrified at the same time -- it's like being in a horror movie and we're just waiting to see what happens next week."

- Tourist attraction -

Last year an estimated 500,000 people attended Dublin's St Patrick's festival. Irish media reported around 100,000 attendees were overseas visitors.

But with pubs closed and various foreign governments banning flights from European nations, many tourists had already begun to filter home.

Some US travellers had brought forward their flights home before Washington's travel ban on European countries was extended to include Ireland and the UK from 0400 GMT Tuesday.

"It just escalated so quickly in the last several days," Travis Mino told AFP at Dublin Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Washington.

Others were determined to soldier on with efforts to celebrate Ireland's patron saint on Tuesday.

"Strange times," said cheerful Russian tourist Aleksei Vishtibeev, sporting a shamrock green novelty leprechaun hat and a fake ginger beard.

"No parade, no holiday. But a holiday is in the head and in the heart, not only in the street."

"I'm ready and going on my single parade," the 45-year old said before setting off on a solo route around the eerie streets of the capital.