Department of the Taoiseach and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Good evening. I need to speak to you again about the coronavirus.
The last few weeks have changed and transformed our lives in so many different ways.
I know it has been difficult – sometimes dispiriting.
The frustration of having our lives restricted. The uncertainty about when things will get back to normal. The fear of the virus itself.
As a nation our physical health has been attacked, our mental health eroded, our economy battered, and our society put to the ultimate test.
Many people are lonely and enduring the pain of isolation. Many people are grieving in silence.
Many have lost their jobs. Many fear losing their businesses and many have lost their lives.
I know, for me, the worst part has been the daily text message at around 5.30 every evening with the latest number of notified deaths and newly diagnosed cases. I yearn for the day when it stops.
Tonight I want to explain to you why we have to extend current restrictions until the 18th May and also to share with you our plan to re-open our economy and society in phases starting on that day.
Thanks to you we are making a real difference in the fight against COVID-19. The curve has been flattened and it has now plateaued. Thousands of lives have been saved. Our hospitals and healthcare staff have not been overwhelmed.
But we have not yet won this fight. Every day we still have too many new cases. We still have too many people in hospital and in our intensive care units. Every day, regrettably, we still have too many deaths.
Our scientists and doctors tell us that if we relax the restrictions too soon, we could see, within a matter of days, our ICUs overcrowded, our care homes under renewed pressure, and our healthcare staff overwhelmed.
Everything we have achieved would be lost. Our best chance of winning this battle would be swept away and we could be back to square one.
So we must go on, for a short time more.
We have a plan to ease restrictions from 18th May. But before that we need two more weeks of tight restrictions to weaken the virus further, so it doesn’t have the strength to make a comeback when we start to interact with each other once again.
During this period we are making some change – we are extending the distance you can leave your home, so from next Tuesday it will be possible to go up to 5km for the purposes of exercise.
For people who are cocooning the public health advice is to continue to do so. However it will still be possible to go for a walk or a drive within 5 km of your home if you avoid all contact with other people.
Our plan is to re-open the country in a slow, staged, phased way.
Five stages, three weeks apart starting on May 18th and, all things going to plan, with the 5th phase commencing on August 10th.
Unfortunately the risk of a second wave of the virus is ever present. So we can only move from one phase to the next if the virus stays under control between each phase. And there is a risk that we’d have to go back a phase if that happens.
In any scenario, at least until we have a vaccine or effective treatment, there will be a long-term need for physical distancing, good hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, regular cleaning and for people to stay at home and isolate if they are sick.
It will take some time for our lives to get back to normal. To a new normal. But it will happen.
So, on the 18th of May, Ireland begins to re-open and begins that journey to a new normal.
From that day, outdoor work like construction and landscaping will resume. Some retail outlets like garden centres, hardware stores, repair shops will re-open, and some outdoor sporting and fitness activities in small groups will be allowed.
Many regular health services will resume operating. And it will be possible to meet small groups of friends and family outdoors.
Not long from now, some summer night, we will see our friends again.
In later phases, other workplaces, businesses, childcare, pre-schools, restaurants, cafes and bars, cinemas and gyms will re-open.
Schools and colleges will reopen in September/October at the start of the new academic year.
Getting people back to work and re-starting businesses will not be easy. I know that. It won’t be possible for people to just pick up where they left off. Businesses are going to need help to get going again.
So, tomorrow, Cabinet will meet again to agree further actions to help our businesses to restart, reconnect and rehire staff who have been laid off or furloughed.
Separately, a National Protocol is being developed by Government, employers and trade unions, with the assistance of the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE.
This will enable a gradual restart of economic activity as restrictions are eased, while protecting the health and safety of workers as they return to work.
We will do everything possible to get enterprises back up and running, so you can get your job back.
While it will take some time before we get to enjoy again the things we are missing – from the comfort of our families to a night out with friends – those days will come again.
Over the last few weeks I have received about 10,000 pieces of correspondence and every day I try to set aside just a little bit of time just to read some of them. People sharing their hopes as well as their fears.
A letter from Jessica, who is a wheelchair user, who feels an enormous cloud of loneliness around her.
A letter from Anne Marie, a healthcare worker who contracted coronavirus at work and who answered her own question about why she put herself at risk.
She said her patients were like family; she said ‘they call us their best friends’.
A letter from Phil, a pensioner living alone, who admits to struggling with the isolation and lack of human contact and whose mental health is starting to suffer. Phil says that we have a long road ahead of us, but one worth taking if it means we all stay safe.
Rachel, aged 13, who is worried about her grandparents and wondering when she will be able to go back to school. Someone worried about the future but who ends her letter by asking me to stay safe.
We are doing this for Jessica, for Anne Marie, for Phil, for Rachel and for everyone else who is struggling as best they can to come through this crisis.
We are doing this for each other.
The coronavirus is cruel and inhumane.
However the stories I am hearing every day are stories of human kindness.
The kindness of healthcare, nursing home, hospice and hospital staff who have comforted and cared for the sick and dying with dignity at the most distressing time.
The tragedy of every death, whether linked to Covid or not, is made far worse by the fact that we have been unable to come together to mourn our loved ones or embrace and comfort each other as families.
But while we are unable to gather, we are still grieving.
And when we come through this we will come together as a nation and grieve together – for everyone who has died over the course of this emergency.
In every city, in every town, in every village, people have met the demands of this crisis with remarkable courage and a sense of solidarity.
We all know someone who is suffering because of these restrictions, just as we all know someone who is on the frontline or performing an essential service.
The best way of helping them is by staying the course, and continuing this fight.
So, tonight I am thinking of parents juggling work and home-schooling. The young people deprived of the companionship of their friends and of their opportunity to take part in sport. The couples who have had to cancel their weddings. The grandparents who crave the opportunity to hold their newly born grandchild. We all have our own stories and each one combines to form a tapestry of struggle, and sacrifice, and sorrow.
It has been worthwhile. It is working. So let’s finish what we started.
Thousands of lives have been saved.
Hundreds of thousands are healthy and untouched by coronavirus because of the sacrifices you have made.
70% of people diagnosed with COVID-19 have fully recovered because of the care and attention given to them by our health service.
That figure would have been much lower if we had been overwhelmed.
So while there is still so much we do not know, there is hope.
In the weeks ahead that hope will drive us forward as we plan to emerge safely from this crisis.