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Leo Varadkar: A storm is coming

Making a rare live broadcast in the Republic's state broadcaster RTÉ, Mr Varadkar said he believes there will be 15,000 or more cases of coronavirus in the Republic by the end of the month

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned the Irish people “the storm is coming” during a rare live broadcast on a St Patrick’s Day “that none of us will ever forget”.

In a speech on RTÉ which used wartime rhetoric, he warned there will be 15,000 Covid-19 cases or more in the Republic by the end of the month – and increase more afterwards – saying more stringent measures will be needed as it advances.

“This is the calm before the storm, before the surge, and when it comes – and it will come – never will so many have asked so much of so few,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said social distancing will “not just be at public gathering or public places but also in our own homes” with “more required in coming weeks to reduce the spread of the virus”.

He was speaking as one of Northern Ireland’s leading hospitality groups last night announced the temporary lay-off of up to 800 staff due the growing coronavirus crisis.

While it is understood the flagship Merchant Hotel will remain open, the Beannchor Group will temporarily close most of its portfolio of bars and hotels.

Read More: Outpouring of gratitute for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after state of nation address on Covid-19 pandemic

The Dirty Onion and Yard Bird, The National, Bullitt, the Ulster Sports Club and the Park Avenue Hotel, all in Belfast, are among the group’s portfolio.

In a statement, Beannchor’s managing director Bill Wolsey said it had been an “emotional and extremely tough decision but if we do not act now, we will not have a business to return to”.

It came as staff at the Newry-based fit-out company MJM Marine were told that a large number of redundancies among its 300-strong workforce was unavoidable.

Earlier, Stormont’s finance minister said no company in Northern Ireland would have to pay business rates for the next three months.

The extended “rates holiday” will form part of a £100 million emergency relief package announced last night by Conor Murphy to tackle the effects of the economic crisis.

The minister is also deferring domestic rates bills from April until June, due to the “worrying time financially for households”.

The Sinn Féin politician said coronavirus was now “not only a health crisis but an economic crisis”.

But lobby groups fear it is “too little too late” for many sectors in the north, where thousands of jobs are at imminent risk in sectors like hospitality, tourism and manufacturing.

In the Republic, Retail Excellence has forecast that another 200,000 people will be out of work by the end of this week.

This is in addition to the estimated 140,000 people who have already lost their jobs since the measures were announced on Thursday.

Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill said: “We are still a huge way away from what’s needed. It’s not enough and it may be too late for many.

“Many of our members are rapidly losing their businesses and staff and we need more measures to be implemented immediately.

“Indeed more than 1,000 people in our industry will have lost their jobs by the time people read your paper in the morning.”

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