'I know it's been difficult': Taoiseach says Irish society 'put to ultimate test'

'I know it's been difficult': Taoiseach says Irish society 'put to ultimate test'
Government Announces Current restrictions extended until May 18.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the last few weeks have transformed people's lives "in so many different ways and ways that we could not have imagined".

Speaking from Government Buildings in Dublin as he announced two further weeks of restriction, he said: "I know it's been difficult.

"The uncertainty about when things will get back to normal and 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 during the pain of isolation.

"Many people are grieving in silence and many have lost their jobs."

Mr Varadkar announced the easing of two restrictions - extending an exercise travel limit from 2km to 5km from home and advising over-70s they can leave home for isolated exercise from Tuesday.

Mr Varadkar added: "Unfortunately the risk of a second wave of the virus is present.

"So we could only move to the next stage 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 an effective treatment, there will be a long-term need for physical distancing, good hygiene, respiratory hygiene, regular cleaning and for people to stay at home and isolate if they're 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 reopen 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 reopen and some outdoor sporting and fitness activities in small groups will be allowed."

Mr Varadkar said that schools and colleges will reopen in September.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking on the steps of Government Buildings Dublin as he addressing the public on steps to ease the existing Covid-19 restrictions. Photo leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking on the steps of Government Buildings Dublin as he addressing the public on steps to ease the existing Covid-19 restrictions. Photo leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

"Many regular health services will resume operating and it will be possible to meet small groups of friends and family outdoors," he added.

"Not long from now, some summer night, we will see our friends again.

"In later phases other workplaces, businesses, childcare, preschools, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas and gyms will reopen.

"Schools and colleges will reopen in September/October at the start of the new academic year.

"Getting people back to work and restarting businesses will not be easy. It won't be possible for people just to pick up where they left off.

"Businesses are going to need help to get going again.

"So tomorrow morning Cabinet will meet again to agree further actions to help our businesses to restart, reconnect and rehire staff who've been laid off or furloughed."

Mr Varadkar added: "Separately, a national protocol is being developed by Government, employers and trade unions with the assistance of the Health and Safety Authority of the HSE.

"This will enable a gradual restart of economic activity as restrictions are eased while protecting the health and safety of all workers as they return to work.

"We will do everything possible to get enterprises back and running so you can get your job back.

"While it will take some time before we get to enjoy again things we are missing, from the comfort of our families, to a night out with friends, those days will come again."

During his address, Mr Varadkar read excerpts from some of the 10,000 pieces of correspondence he has received from members of the public since the crisis began.

He spoke of Jessica, a wheelchair user, who feels an enormous cloud of loneliness around her; Anne Marie, a healthcare worker who contracted Covid-19 who described her patients as like family; Phil, a pensioner who lives alone who is struggling with isolation; and Rachel, 13, who is worried about her grandparents.

"We're doing this for Jessica, for Anne Marie, for Phil, for Rachel and for everyone else who are struggling as best they can to come through this crisis," said Mr Varadkar.

"We're doing this for each other.

"The coronavirus is cruel and inhuman however the stories I am hearing every day are stories of human kindness."

Mr Varadkar spoke of the pain for families unable to properly grieve for all those who had lost their lives in recent weeks.

"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," he said.

He said people had met the crisis with "remarkable courage and sense of solidarity".

Mr Varadkar urged people to "stay the course" and "continue the fight".

Mr Varadkar said all the personal stories of loss and hardship had formed a "tapestry of struggle and sacrifice and sorrow".

"It has been worthwhile, it is working, so let's finish what we started," said the Taoiseach.

"Thousands of lives have been saved, hundreds of thousands of people are healthy and untouched by coronavirus because of the sacrifices and choices you have made."

Mr Varadkar said 70% of people diagnosed with the virus had made a full recovery. He said the figure would have been so much lower if the health service had been overwhelmed.

"While there is so much we do not know, tonight there is hope," he said.

"In the weeks ahead that hope will drive us forward as we plan to emerge safely from this crisis."

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