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'The worst has yet to come', Taoiseach warns nation

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Leo Varadkar during his live TV address to the nation

Leo Varadkar during his live TV address to the nation

Leo Varadkar during his live TV address to the nation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar issued a historic rallying call as the country braces itself for worst impacts of the deadly coronavirus.

In a televised state of the nation address, he called for calm and community spirit but warned that the worst has yet to come.

The Taoiseach said we are experiencing "the calm before the storm" and predicted 15,000 people will have the disease before the end of the month.

"We can't stop the virus, but working together, we can slow it in its tracks and push it back," he added.

He said the strict social distancing measure put in place to fight the virus could be extended into the summer months.

This will soon include asking older and vulnerable people to "cocoon" in their homes for weeks on end.

"At a certain point, we will advise the elderly and people who have a long-term illness to stay at home for several weeks," he said.

"We call it cocooning, and it will save many lives, particularly the lives of the most vulnerable."

The Taoiseach said he understood it will be difficult for older people to stay away from their loved ones, but urged them to use Skype or Facetime to keep in contact with their families.

He said the Government will ensure those who are asked to cocoon will be have food delivered.

Truth

The Taoiseach acknowledge the virus is causing "huge stress and anxiety" for people who lost their jobs. He said the Government will provide them with welfare supports.

He added that people should avoid unnecessary journeys, shop online from local businesses and get goods delivered.

He thanked health workers, saying: "Not all superheroes wear capes, some wear scrubs and gowns."

He said the "truth is" the Government does not know when the crisis will end.

"We went into this crisis with a strong economy and the public finances in good order. We have the capacity and credit rating to borrow billions if we need to. I'm confident our economy will bounce back, but the damage will be significant and lasting," he said.

The Government is preparing to introduce emergency legislation in the Dail.

The bill will give medical officials the power to order people to be detained and isolated if they believe they could spread the virus.

The Government will be able to order people to stay in their homes. It will have the power to close down mass gatherings.

The emergency legislation will provide for welfare benefits for people who have not been able to work.

The Dail will reconvene today to vote on the emergency measures.