Twelve months on from his coronavirus announcement, Leo Varadkar admits he expected the lockdown to end after a few weeks. The then-Taoiseach addressed the public from the steps of Blair House in the US capital and told them, “I need to speak to you about coronavirus”.
The Tánaiste said he had “no concept” at the time that most businesses, pubs and clubs would still remain closed. Varadkar also took time to pay tribute to “the perseverance and courage of Irish people”, who withstood “extraordinary restrictions”.
Varadkar said he remembers last year’s announcement in Washington “vividly” as it is “etched” into his memory. As they knew little about the virus at the time, Leo said they know so much more now, “but even so, we are still learning”.
Varadkar said there was “no road map” to deal with the pandemic as the last one “occurred around 100 years previously”. The Tánaiste also pointed out that “it was influenza, not coronavirus”, and even the WHO and the ECDC had “large gaps in their knowledge”. He said the government “took decisions based on the best advice available, and by instinct.”
On March 29th, Varadkar announced that all schools, colleges, childcare services, and cultural institutions were to close. The Tánaiste’s Paddy’s Day speech also announced pubs, restaurants and nightclubs were soon to follow.
“The first lockdown that I announced from Washington was for just two weeks, and we believed that the full effect would be for perhaps six weeks or a few months at most,” Varadkar said. “We had no concept that one year later some of those closures would still be in place, such as nightclubs and pubs in Dublin.”
“A few things have made a really big impression on me in the last year. There is all the pain and suffering that people in Ireland and around the world have endured,” declared Varadkar. “But equally, the perseverance and courage of Irish people has been inspiring. They have withstood extraordinary restrictions and continue to do so.”
Varadkar noted how families have been separated, friends cannot make contact, and how it has been particularly hard on young people. However, the Tánaiste believes the hardest part is that we are not at the end. He said they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, “even if it’s still some way off”.
“The vaccination programme, while slower than hoped for, is nevertheless making progress,” Varadkar declared, “with more than 100,000 people over the age of 80 having received a dose. We are coming into the summer when respiratory viruses find it harder to spread, and treatments are getting better. I used to say that I wanted the pandemic to be a lost year, not a lost decade. It looks like it’s going to be more than a year, but hopefully not much more than one.”
“Ireland is a great nation, and we are great people,” declared Varadkar. “We have experienced hardship and struggle before. We have overcome many trials in the past with our determination and our spirit. We will prevail.”
Twelve months on from when Varadkar made his announcement from Washington, Ireland remains in Level 5 lockdown while shops, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs all remain closed. Schools and colleges have begun to reopen, however, 10 more deaths and 646 new cases of COVID-19, showing we are still not out of the woods yet.