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Irish PM Leo Varadkar announces shutdown to fight coronavirus
Ireland's outgoing Indian-origin Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday announced a two-week shutdown across schools, colleges and other public facilities to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Irish Taoiseach, as the PM is known, addressed the nation from Washington DC during his ongoing US tour, even as President Donald Trump announced a ban on travellers from 26 European Union (EU) Schengen zone countries as part of its measures against the virus excluding the UK and Ireland.
“I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it is going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives. I know that I am asking people to make enormous sacrifices. We're doing it for each other,” said Varadkar.
“Together, we can slow the virus in its tracks and push it back. Acting together, as one nation, we can save many lives. Our economy will suffer. It will bounce back,” he said.
From 6pm local time in Ireland on Thursday, schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close as will cultural institutions. The Irish government has also recommended that indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people be cancelled.
People should continue to go to work if they can but those who are able to work from home should do so, said Varadkar, who is serving as a caretaker Prime Minister until a new government is cobbled together following Irish elections last month.
Shops and supply chains as well as cafes and restaurants can remain open but people are advised to minimise social interaction where possible. Public transport in the country will continue to operate.
"The irony is that in order to pull together we are asking people to stay apart. The closures proposed will disrupt the everyday connectivity that makes us who we are,” said Simon Coveney, Ireland's Tánaiste or Deputy Prime Minister.
The measures are to be in place across the Republic of Ireland until March 29, where the first death from the virus was reported on Wednesday.
Other European countries are also putting tougher measures in place, including the Czech Republic shutting down its borders to 13 countries hit by COVID-19, Denmark closing down schools and public institutions and Hungary declaring a state of emergency.
Italy, the worst his country outside China where the virus originated, remains under lockdown even as other countries weigh up the best response as the World Health Organisation declared the virus a global pandemic.