New laws may see State detain and isolate people on public health grounds

Coronavirus cases to rise 30% daily and may reach 15,000 in fortnight, warns Varadkar

The Cabinet is looking to give itself new enforcement powers to enable the State to close mass gatherings and venues with the force of law and also to enable the State to detain and isolate people on public health grounds.

The plan was outlined by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a briefing on Monday evening where he also said the number of coronavirus cases will rise 30 per cent every day and could reach 15,000 by the end of the month.

He said the rise in cases was “inevitable: it cannot be stopped”.

“We are at the very start of that curve. So there will be a very significant increase in the number of cases every day for the next couple of weeks,” the Taoiseach said.


He said cases could potentially rise to millions in the long run.

Irish residents have been advised against all non-essential travel overseas until at least March 29th. Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the travel advice included Britain but not Northern Ireland.

Restrictions will also be imposed on everyone who comes into Ireland from now on.

“We are going to be asking them, essentially, to restrict their movement when they land in Dublin Airport or Cork Airport or Shannon Airport or elsewhere.

“They will be given clear instruction in terms of what that means. It is not quite self-isolation but it certainly involves significant restrictions in terms of people’s movements for up to two weeks,” Mr Coveney said.

The Taoiseach said the Government had secured more ventilators but could not guarantee there would be enough to meet the potential demand.

“We know that Covid-19 causes a lot of people to be hospitalised. We have hundreds of ventilators already, hundreds more have been secured and we will get more every week.

“We can’t say at this stage whether the number of people who need to be ventilated will exceed the numbers of ventilators that we have.”

Mr Varadkar also warned that the economy would slow down dramatically and that not all businesses that had closed would be in a position to reopen. Up to 140,000 could lose their jobs in the short-term given the closure of pubs and clubs, and some restaurants. He expressed “profound sorrow” at the job losses.

Mortgage request

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will also meet the main banks to ask them for forbearance for people who cannot make their mortgage repayments during the crisis. He said the banks would be asked to add missing payments to the end of the loan term.

The Government will also examine proposals to arrange childcare for healthcare workers who are struggling to make arrangements.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland would be dealing with the coronavirus crisis for months rather than weeks.

There was a particular focus during the Cabinet committee meeting on Monday on ensuring the provision of personal protective equipment with arrangements being made to procure these from Europe and China.

"We know from Italy, China and other places that one of the really tragic consequences of Covid-19 is doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff getting infected. We need to protect them," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Coveney said efforts to bring Irish residents home from Spain might now continue beyond Thursday into Friday and Saturday.

The Government has also decided against instructing restaurants to close on the basis of advice from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

A video conference will be held on Tuesday of the heads of the 27 member states, which will focus on EU co-operation on travel restrictions and on the economic impact of Covid-19.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said members of the health service have been working "flat out". He said a "massive national recruitment campaign" would be launched on Tuesday.

“We will hire everybody that we can. The only limiting factor will be the availability of people, not resources.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times