/Ireland’s grim St. Patrick’s Day message: Coronavirus cases to jump to 15,000 from 223, but stops short of nationwide lockdown

Ireland’s grim St. Patrick’s Day message: Coronavirus cases to jump to 15,000 from 223, but stops short of nationwide lockdown

A debate raged in Ireland for a week over whether the government should cancel the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. It did — and with good reason.

Health officials do not want the kind of outbreak that happened in Italy to happen in this country of just over 4.8 million people. The Republic of Ireland shares a soft border with the British province of Northern Ireland, which has a population of over 1.9 million, where there is free movement of goods and people. Unlike schools south of the border, Northern Ireland has so far kept them open.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said late Monday that by the end of the month he expects approximately 15,000 people to test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2, up from 223 currently. He also expects the current number of cases to rise by 30% every day. “Whether it’s an issue next year or not I can’t say,” he added.

“We would expect that by the end of the month there would be maybe 15,000 people who would have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of those will not need treatment, but a proportion will need to be hospitalized and we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen at the same time,” Varadkar said at a news conference that again focused on the importance of social distancing to prevent contagion.

As of Tuesday morning, there were two confirmed coronavirus-related deaths in Ireland, local health authorities said. In Northern Ireland, there have been 11 deaths from COVID-19 and 54 confirmed cases. Worldwide, there were 190,140 confirmed cases and 7,519 deaths, according to data from the database of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Last Saturday, people gathered in the Temple Bar district of central Dublin, crowded into bars, leading Varadkar to threaten to force pubs to close to keep crowds below 100 people. One video shows a crowd singing “Sweet Caroline” in a bar. All pubs in Ireland were subsequently closed on March 16. The government also advised people not to hold house parties on Tuesday.

Tony Holohan, the government’s chief medical officer, told Monday’s news conference: “We’re not recommending a lockdown. It would be easy to recommend every airport, workplace, every part of society to close. That might reduce the spread of the virus, but it would be a disproportionate response.” Supermarkets and pharmacies are open. Many stores remain open.

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AFP via Getty Images

Ireland is still grappling with resistance to social-distancing guidelines, echoing a pattern scene in other countries in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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