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Varadkar: EU leaders agree to fund research to rapidly develop Covid-19 vaccine

Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the situation is ‘totally unprecedented’.

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Leo Varadkar said health ministers across the EU will talk to each other every day to help tackle the spread of Covid-19 (PA)

Leo Varadkar said health ministers across the EU will talk to each other every day to help tackle the spread of Covid-19 (PA)

Leo Varadkar said health ministers across the EU will talk to each other every day to help tackle the spread of Covid-19 (PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said EU leaders have agreed to fund research that will develop a new vaccine to treat Covid-19 as quickly as possible.

It comes as 34 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland.

Speaking following a meeting of the EU Council on Covid-19 on Tuesday night, he said: “We all agreed that our highest priority as EU leaders must be protecting public health and human life, preventing the spread of the virus and working to mitigate its impact on our people.

“We agreed to funding research in Europe that will develop new tests, a treatment and a vaccine as rapidly as possible.

“We agreed the need for a co-ordinated approach to the bureau of medicines, medical devices and protective equipment including establishing an inventory of stock and also production capacity so that our health services are prepared for a number of cases, as they continue to increase, as they inevitably will.”

Mr Varadkar said health ministers across the European Union will talk to each other every day to help tackle the spread of Covid-19.

He said: “To ensure a more co-ordinated approach at EU level, we agreed that health, and other relevant ministers, talk to each other every day.”

He said the Irish Government’s Covid 19 cabinet committee will meet again on Friday and next Monday to discuss further actions on tackling the spread of the virus.

“I want to assure the public that all actions being taken by government have been taken on the advice of the experts, National Public Health Emergency Team… led by the chief medical officer, and informed by guidance from the World Health Organisation, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.”

The Irish government has tightened its travel restrictions, warning citizens against all but essential travel to Italy.

Ireland’s deputy leader Simon Coveney said the “totally unprecedented” advice comes after the Italian government extended quarantine measures to the whole country.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs said people should not travel to Italy unless it is absolutely necessary.

He said the vast majority of people who tested positive for coronavirus in Ireland had travelled to northern Italy.

Mr Coveney told RTE’s Morning Ireland that it is “totally unprecedented” for a Minister of Foreign Affairs to advise Irish citizens not to travel to a large EU member state.

“But that is the advice this morning,” Mr Coveney added.

“I’m in favour of anything that public health experts say would work and I think politicians need to listen to people who are knowledgeable on how to make the right decisions here.

“The truth is that we have no experts on the planet on Covid-19 because it’s new, 13 weeks ago no-one ever heard of it.”

Coronavirus advice
Mr Coveney warned that the situation was unprecedented (Philip Toscano/PA)

Mr Coveney added that it is inevitable Ireland will move to the delay phase.

He explained: “The (delay phase) is trying to stop the spread of the virus in a population that has no immunity and recognising the reality that we effectively have no vaccine and no treatment.”

On Tuesday evening, 10 more cases of Covid-19 in the Republic were confirmed, bringing the total to 34.

Trinity College Dublin confirmed on Tuesday that it is closing its lecture halls and other buildings amid the coronavirus threat.

In a statement posted on the university’s website, it said: “From tomorrow morning (Wednesday 11th), all lectures will be delivered online for the rest of the semester rather than physically in a lecture hall.

“However, tutorials, seminars and laboratory practicals will all continue to be given in the usual fashion while using social distancing protocols.

“This will allow Trinity to maintain continuity of teaching and learning while minimising the need to bring together students in large groups.

“This will slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, but further measures may be necessary and these arrangements will be kept under continuous review.”

The university also confirmed it is closing Ireland’s oldest library and the Book of Kells exhibition from Tuesday at 1pm.

The Old Library, the Science Gallery and the Douglas Hyde Gallery will remain closed as the threat of coronavirus continues to grow.

The university said the measures are being taken in the interests of the public’s health and to decrease any potential impacts on the community.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia on March 26 will be played behind closed doors on the instruction of the Slovakian government.

The FAI released a statement announcing that all fans who purchased tickets for the game in Bratislava will be refunded.

Mr Coveney also said that the government is taking advice from experts.

He added: “We are trying to provide responses that are proportionate, so if you shut a country down without good reason and evidence to back that up, then I think you cause significant damage to people’s quality of life.

“What we’re trying to do is follow the public health advice that is appropriate given the level of threat at any given time.

“I’m a politician, a policymaker, and we need to listen to experts in terms of the recommendations and the advice that they give.

“This response needs to be health-driven and that is what we’re doing, rather than politicians going off on solo runs and doing things that aren’t recommended.

“We’re very much working with our public health team and with the HSE.”

On Monday, Mr Varadkar warned that more than half of the population in the Republic of Ireland could contract Covid-19.

He made the comments as the government unveiled a 430 million euro financial aid package to tackle the health crisis.

The government also cancelled all St Patrick’s Day parades across the country.

The 430 million euro will be allocated to provide additional staff and capacity in the health service to deal with the virus, while the government also plans to amend legislation on sick pay to make it available from the first day of illness rather than the current six days.

PA