Michael Staines
Michael Staines

11.41 3 Mar 2020


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The Sinn Féin leader has said the health and safety of the public must come first when it comes to deciding whether to host St Patrick’s Day this year.

Mary Lou McDonald was speaking after her children’s school was closed for two weeks after one of its students became the first person to contract the virus.

The pupil was diagnosed after returning from northern Italy and is currently in a hospital isolation unit.

On The Pat Kenny Show, Deputy McDonald said everyone her family is “well.”

“What we are doing is following the advice from the Chief Medical Officer,” she said. “We are erring on the side of caution. We are being careful, but we are keeping calm.”

“I think it's really important that we remember there is a sick person in the middle of this and I'm sure their family is feeling under enormous pressure now – so we wish them a very, very speedy recovery, and our solidarity and best wishes to them.

“I think now as a community we need to calmly and in a very purposeful way, pull together and support each other and do the sensible thing to see this virus off.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris (centre) meets HSE staff who are activating the public awareness campaign for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the baggage hall of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport.

The National Public Health Emergency Team is today expected to give guidance on handling St Patrick's Day parades and other big events.

The guidance will then be considered by Cabinet; however, no decision is expected today.

Deputy McDonald said authorities need to make decisions based on best practice for keeping people safe and healthy.

“In no way should the health and the welfare of the community of any individual be jeopardised by anybody,” she said.

“We need to be guided by, in the first instance, what the doctors, the medics and the Chief Medical Officer tells us is best practice.

“That is my view as regards St Patrick’s and my understanding is at this point there is no suggestion that anything would be cancelled but I am very sure that there is very much a watching brief on that now.

“We need to do the things that keep people healthy and well and everything we can to stop the spread of this virus.”

She said Sinn Féin was “left with no option” but to postpone scheduled public meetings in Cavan and Galway as a result of the school closure.

“I simply couldn't be tearing across the country to attend events like that,” she said. “But we do hope to reschedule those meetings in the very near future.”

Restricted movements

She said doctors have advised that she is a “contact of a contact” and as result there are no restrictions on her own movements.

However, her children are learning what it is like to “restrict your movements.”

“I think initially the cheer went up 'two weeks off school,'” she said. “But the reality is starting to dawn, because the restrictions on the children are, correctly, quite strict.”

“There is no out and about, there are no visitors to the house and so on.

“It is going to be a bit of a challenge, not just for me, but all of the parents and families caught up in this to keep people actively and productively busy and doing things – and not driving each other or driving me around the bend.”

With reporting from Stephen McNeice


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