Ireland goes into lockdown with schools closed and mass gatherings cancelled

The Republic of Ireland has announced that it will be closing all schools and colleges in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Ireland reported its first coronavirus-related death on Wednesday 11 March after an elderly woman died in hospital in Dublin.

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The new measure was announced by the Prime Minister on Thursday 12 March and is scheduled to last until the end of the month.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Why has Ireland closed its schools?

On Thursday 12 March, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the new measure in an address to the nation broadcast from Washington where he is set to meet with President Trump as part of the St Patrick’s Day tradition.

The measure will see all of Ireland’s schools, colleges and childcare facilities closed. All indoor gatherings of 100 more people will also be cancelled, as will outdoor gatherings of 500 or more.

It came as Donald Trump made a coronavirus announcement of his own, shutting down all travel from Europe, except for Britain and Ireland.

He said that the action had been determined as a necessary measure in stopping the spread of the coronavirus in Ireland. Varadkar said “I know that some of this is coming as a real shock and it's going to involve big changes in the way we live our lives, and I know I am asking people to make enormous sacrifices.

“But we are doing it for each other - together we can slow the virus in its tracks and push it back.

“We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory and this is uncharted territory for us. We said we would take the right actions at the right time and we have to move now to have the greatest impact."

How long will the shut-down last?

The shut-down begins on Friday 13 March and is currently scheduled to last until Sunday 29 March.

While the shut-down is in place, teaching will be done online to ensure that education is disrupted as little as possible.

Public transport will continue to operate as normal and businesses will remain open as normal.

Varadkar encouraged people to work from home where possible and that those working in offices ensure their breaks are “staggered” and that "people should seek to reduce social interactions as much as possible."

What measures have other European countries taken?

Schools and colleges have also been closed in Malta, Slovakia and Denmark.

So far, Italy has taken the most severe measures of any European nation, announcing a nationwide quarantine and closing all non-essential stores, as well as bars, restaurants and other establishments.

Spain’s parliament has been suspended for 15 days, with necessary meetings to be held via video conference. All La Liga matches have been suspended for the rest of the month.

The President of the Madrid region of Spain has also said that the government is considering locking down the Spanish capital.

The Czech Republic has announced it will be bringing in controls on its borders with Austria and Germany.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS