Irish coronavirus crisis could last until summer: PM

Dublin (AFP) –


Ireland's coronavirus emergency could last until the summer, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned in an address to the nation on Tuesday.

The government has already closed schools, universities and pubs until 29 March in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Gatherings of more than 100 have also been restricted and "social distancing" measures -- including working from home -- highly recommended.

But in a St Patrick's Day address Varadkar warned the crisis could continue for months.

"This emergency is likely to go on well beyond March 29," he said on state broadcaster RTE.

"It could go on for months into the summer so we need to be sensible in the approach we take."

There are likely to be 15,000 cases or more by the end of the month, he said, calling the current situation "the calm before the storm".

He predicted that the crisis would cause "significant and lasting" economic damage.

"Tonight I know many of you are feeling scared and overwhelmed. That is a normal reaction, but we will get through this and we will prevail," he said.

Ireland's healthcare workers are to focus on extensive contact tracing and promoting "social distancing".

Older and vulnerable people will soon be asked to remain at home for several weeks to "cocoon" them from contact with the virus.

Ireland has thus far suffered two deaths from the coronavirus and has had 292 confirmed cases.