Schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland are to close for two weeks due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the country’s premier has announced.
Leo Varadkar said the action had to be taken to try to prevent the spread of the infection.
He made a live statement to the nation from Washington DC, where he is due to meet President Donald Trump later as part of the annual St Patrick’s Day programme of events.
The Taoiseach said many more people in Ireland would get the virus and would get sick.
“Unfortunately we must face the tragic reality that some people will die,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said he was acting on fresh advice from the country’s National Public Health Emergency Team.
“The virus is all over the world, it will continue to spread but it can be slowed,” he said.
He said the Government had a duty to protect those at risk categories of people, such as older people and those with underlying conditions.
“We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory and this is uncharted territory for us,” he said.
“We said we would take the right actions at the right time and we have to move now to have the greatest impact.”
Health minister Simon Harris announced in Dublin that the country had officially moved to the “delay” phase, which aims to reduce the peak impact of the virus and slow its spread.
The school closures are among a range of restrictions coming into place at 6pm on Thursday.
Cultural institutions in Ireland are also closing.
Advice has been issued to cancel all indoor mass gatherings involving 100 people or more and outdoor gatherings of 500 or more.
People have been urged to continue to go to work but, where possible, to work from home.
Mr Varadkar, speaking a short distance from the White House, said public transport will continue to operate as normal and shops would remain open.
He said the Government had plans to ensure that supply chains would not be interrupted.
He urged employees to limit face-to-face contact and suggested staggering break times.
“We need the public and businesses to take a sensible, level-headed and responsible approach during this difficult time,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said restaurants and cafes could stay open but should try to implement official advice on social distancing.
He urged people to reduce their social interaction outside of work.
The cabinet is meeting later on Thursday and other political leaders in the country will be fully briefed on developments, Mr Varadkar said.
The Taoiseach said Ireland will use extensive but not unlimited resources to address the crisis.
He said the Government would do as much as it could to support healthcare workers on the “frontline”.
“I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it’s going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives, and I know I am asking people to make enormous sacrifices,” he said.
“But we are doing it for each other – together we can slow the virus in its tracks and push it back.”
He added that acting as “one nation” could save lives and that the economy will suffer, but “we can bounce back”.
He said lost time in school or college would be recovered.
“In time our lives will go back to normal,” he said.
“Above all we all need to look out for each other.
“Ireland is a great nation, we are a great people and we have experienced hardship and struggle before.
“We’ve overcome many trials in the past with our determination and our spirit and once again we will prevail.”