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More than half of population could contract coronavirus, Irish premier says

Mr Varadkar said he thinks the Irish health system ‘will cope as best as possible’.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris (Aine McMahon/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris (Aine McMahon/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris (Aine McMahon/PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has warned that more than half of the population in the Republic of Ireland could contract Covid-19, as the government unveiled a 430 million euro financial aid package to tackle the health crisis.

It comes as the government cancelled all St Patrick’s Day parades, including in Dublin, across the country.

On Monday more cases of Covid-19 in the Republic were confirmed, bringing the total number to 24.

They included females from the west and south of the country in close contact with cases and a female healthcare worker from the south in close contact with a patient.

At a press briefing in Dublin on Monday on the spread of Covid-19, Mr Varadkar said: “What we have seen from other countries and what we have seen from what is available at the moment, is that we could we could easily have 50 or 60% of our population contracting Covid-19.

“For the vast majority of the population this will be a mild illness and may even by asymptomatic. However, there will be a significant part of the population who will require critical care.”

He added: “A percentage that we don’t honestly know yet – it could be one per cent or three per cent – mortality.

“We just don’t know that with any degree of certainty. It is not the kind of thing we have seen in a very long time.”

Mr Varadkar said he thinks the Irish health system “will cope as best as possible”, but would struggle if the virus were to spread rapidly.

He added: “This won’t be an ordinary situation If you consider the numbers of people who could become very ill.. even if the health service was twice the size it is now we will struggle.”

He said 430 million euro will be allocated to provide additional staff and capacity in the health service to deal with the virus.

He said: “Money that would have been set aside for a hard Brexit is being put aside for Covid-19.”

Mr Varadkar said “conditionality will be waived” when it comes to people seeking sick pay if they have Covid-19.

“The whole objective here is that people who have symptoms and are told to stay at home will come forward and not fear doing so for economic reasons,” he added.

He said the Irish government has a plan in place if Covid-19 becomes a pandemic.

He said: “We have a pandemic plan but it needs to be updated and we will most likely have an updated plan by Friday.

“Bear in mind, we are already a few weeks behind the UK in terms of the spread of the virus.”

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said while Ireland remains in a containment phase, it will eventually move to a delay phase and then on to the mitigation phase.

He said: “Containment is about identifying and containing all cases no matter how mild. The delay phase will focus on minimising the spread of the virus.

“Ultimately, in mitigation phase, we prioritise the cases that are most unwell.”

PA