HEANEY in DUBLIN at the GPO in O'Connell Street
Dublin City – appeal to people to keep their distance and heed virus warnings.

By Marie O’Halloran, Harry McGee, Vivienne Clarke. Picture by Bill Heaney

The Irish Government and Health Service Executive (HSE) have warned that failure to engage in social distancing is putting people’s lives at risk.

And made it clear that despite significant differences in the approach taken in the Republic and the UK, they intend “to align their actions, in so far as possible”.

Irish depute prime minister, Simon Coveney, has warned “we need to change the conversation” for those people who are not taking the public health advice seriously on social distancing to ensure they do so.

He called on Senators and community leaders to speak out in a responsible way to get the message across.

“We mustn’t threaten, we mustn’t frighten but we need to confront people with the reality of what this country is facing.”

Mr Coveney was speaking as he introduced emergency legislation in the Senate to give the Government sweeping powers to combat Covid-19.

Elsewhere, Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid said Irish people were making a significant effort in relation to social distancing and not doing so was “putting lives at risk”.

“I think actions (being asked of population) right now are very significant and challenging for people. I think the vast majority of people are taking actions. The smaller minorities who aren’t, what I say to you, you are putting lives at risk,” he told reporters at a Government press briefing on Friday.

Mr Coveney said of the emergency powers passed: “I hope we never need them, but I suspect we might.”

He said parents, families, peer groups and communities needed to confront people who were not taking the public health message seriously.

They had to speaking particularly to “teenagers hanging out together in people’s homes or on street corners, interacting and socialising and chatting as they would normally do”.

They should be asked “If you have an option to throw a lifeline to a loved one in a vulnerable group who may be drowning, will you do it?”

He said it “sounds like we’re living in a movie set, but believe me when we look back in six weeks’ time or 12 weeks’ time we’ll wish we’d done more, and we’ll wish we’d confronted those kids on a street corner or at the end of a housing estate who are gathering under a tree or under a light or wherever”.

They were trying to prevent what happened in Italy happening in Ireland “where towns will have to be cut off because we’re trying to contain or prevent the spread of a disease in other to protect vulnerable people”.

He said people who hold house parties or who meet to play football should think of the hundreds of thousands of people who are vulnerable, members of their family and their community.

“Social distancing matters. It is not a theory, it’s a protection, and we need to confront our families and our peers and our communities to make sure that everybody takes that seriously. And if we do we will save lives, thousands of them, he said in an impassioned speech.

“Ultimately it is the people themselves, all over the country who need to play their part by following public health advice,” he said.

Mr Coveney said this is about protecting health and lives. “We have over half a million Irish people who are over the age of 70. We have 170,000 people who are either in recovery, recovered or in treatment for cancer, 40,000 extra a year.”

He said there were 7,000 children and young adults with Down Syndrome. “Tomorrow is world Down Syndrome day. We have people with cystic fibrosis. We have tens of thousands of people with respiratory illness and asthma and so many other vulnerable communities.

“And it is the action of people who ignore because perhaps they don’t feel threatened themselves in their own lives because they’re young and healthy and have strong immune systems, and for them Covid-19 if it confronts them on a personal level may mean two or three days or mild illness.”

Ireland will experience a surge in the number of coronavirus cases before social distancing measures start to make an impact, according to an infectious disease expert.

Prof Sam McConkey has said he was not surprised by the increase in the number of cases of the coronavirus confirmed on Thursday.

Further social measures will have to be considered if the numbers fail to level off following the expected surge, Prof McConkey said.

He told Newstalk Breakfast the figures follow an exponential curve model and he hopes that in the next five to seven days the number of cases will level off.

The Government warned on Thursday the Covid-19 virus could kills tens of thousands of people if the public does not follow advice to keep apart from others.

Ireland recorded its third death from the virus on Thursday, while the first fatality in the North was also announced.

The number of new cases in the Republic jumped to 191 from 74 a day earlier, marking a daily record for a sixth day in a row. The number of confirmed cases in the Republic has risen to 557 in the 20 days since the first known case was diagnosed in the country on February 29th.

In Northern Ireland, 77 people have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing to 634 the total number of known cases on the island of Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told Fine Gael TDs that school closures could be extended to April or May and later discussed the crisis in a telephone call with the British prime minister Boris Johnson.

Despite significant differences in the approach taken in the Republic and the UK, the two men agreed to “align their actions, in so far as possible”.

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