Coronavirus: Over one million people now receiving State income support

Hardware stores should open only for emergencies and deliveries, says Government

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty described the situation as ‘unparalleled in our nation’s history’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty described the situation as ‘unparalleled in our nation’s history’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

More than one million people are now receiving some sort of State income support, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said.

The Department of Social Protection issued pandemic unemployment payments to 584,000 people on Monday. About 50,000 people are receiving a payment for the first time.

These payments are in addition to the 212,000 people on the live register and more than 46,000 employers have now registered with the Revenue Commissioners for the temporary Covid-19 wage-subsidy scheme.

Speaking on Monday, Ms Doherty described the situation as something which is “unparalleled in our nation’s history”.

“Between our Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, those on the live register and workers who are benefitting from the wage-subsidy scheme, over a million people are receiving some sort of State income support – a situation unparalleled in our nation’s history,” she said.

“This is a temporary health emergency and many sectors of the economy will be able to switch back on relatively quickly once the danger has passed. However, some sectors will be slower than others to recover and we will also have a challenge with youth employment as many young people who could have expected to have entered a buoyant jobs market will now face a much more complex environment.

“Understanding this, my department is already planning for the post-pandemic environment and considering the best measures to help every worker to get back into the labour force as quickly as possible.”

Personal Protective Equipment

Meanwhile, the public has been warned about businesses selling face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) online with claims it has been donated to hospitals and is up to a healthcare standard.

The issue had been flagged by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, where vendors are advertising PPE online as up to hospital standard with “no basis”, said the assistant general secretary at the Department of An Taoiseach, Liz Canavan, on Monday.

“Some online traders appear to be informing consumers that the personal protective products they are selling have been donated to hospitals and other healthcare providers, in many cases it is unclear whether these donated products are suitable for healthcare settings,” she told a daily press briefing.

“When you go in to look at these products there’s a claim these are being used in hospitals or being donated to hospitals to give them some badge of quality, but there’s no basis for it,” she said.

Lifting the lockdown

The Government understands considerable “speculation” exists about potential easing of restrictions and frustration with measures such as cocooning for the elderly, said Ms Canavan.

However, she again stressed that any changes in the extent of restrictions on May 5th would depend on the behaviour of the virus.

Speaking at a seperate briefing on Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the Government was working on a plan for the staged lifting of restrictions.

“What we’re working on at the moment is a plan that will be ready by the end of April-early May in advance of the May 5th big day if you like. And what we hope to set out is a step-wise plan which indicates how we would reopen the country in different steps and what are the criteria that would have to be met to move from one stage to the next.”

Mr Varadkar said until that plan was ready, he would prefer not to speculate on what would open first.

“I really understand that a lot of people are beginning to find the lockdown, starting to find the restrictions very difficult, and I’d prefer not to raise hopes or raise expectations only to dash them,” he said.

He said he hoped that in May the Government could authorise the reopening of “certain services, certain parts of the economy and then review it every two to three weeks.”

“But I’d rather give people certainty when we have that towards the end of April or early May,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Government has said hardware shops should not be open to the general public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We want to clear up confusion which has arisen in relation to hardware stores. Under current restrictions, hardware stores should not be open to the general public,” said Ms Canavan.

“They are only open for emergencies and deliveries as set out in the updated retail services list as set out on gov.ie, which remains unchanged,” she added.

The number of deaths and confirmed cases reported in the Republic on Sunday showed a slight decline on recent days. Another 39 people died from Covid-19, while there were a further 493 confirmed cases of the virus. There have now been 610 Covid-19-related deaths in the State, while the number of confirmed cases stands at 15,251.

High compliance

Ms Canavan said the Garda continue to report an “ongoing high-level compliance” with restrictions on non-essential movement.

Revenue has confirmed that a zero rate of VAT would apply to the supply of PPE to hospitals, nursing homes and GP practices, said Ms Canavan.

This lower rate of VAT will be in place until July 21st and applies to items such as PPE, hand sanitiser, medical ventilators and oxygen tanks.

Extensions of four months for driving licenses and learner permits due to lapse during the pandemic would apply from the date of expiry.

Liz Canavan, Assistant Secretary to the Department of Taoiseach, during a media brieifng on coronavirus last week. Photograph: Collins
Liz Canavan, Assistant Secretary to the Department of Taoiseach, during a media brieifng on coronavirus last week. Photograph: Collins

National Car Testing Service appointments due on or after March 20th had also been extended by four months, while test dates for commercial vehicles had been pushed back by three months, said Ms Canavan.

The take-up of the Government’s temporary wage-subsidy scheme “continues to grow” and to date €321 million had been paid out under the scheme, she said.

“We are aware that there may be some situations where a one-parent family recipient is no longer receiving maintenance for their child, because the other parent has lost their job due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Ms Canavan.

Lone parents in this situation were advised to contact their local Intreo office and the department would “revise” their one-parent family benefit for a 12-week period to account for the loss of maintenance, she said.

Complacency

Minister for Health Simon Harris said on Sunday night he feared an air of complacency was “creeping in” concerning Ireland’s battle against Covid-19 and he urged people to stiffen their resolve.

“We are making really good progress . . . but the progress is fragile. We are in a very delicate moment and it would not take much for that to be reversed,” he said.

Elsewhere, fresh research from King’s College London suggests Ireland may have to cope with repeated waves of Covid-19 epidemics until a large enough proportion of the population is infected to provide herd immunity.

At best there may be three more cycles of infection before 60 per cent of the population have the virus, regarded as sufficient to provide potential herd immunity, according to the modelling analysis led by an Irish scientist.

President of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland Catherine Motherway warned that until a vaccine is found people are going to have to be “very careful how we live”.

Dr Motherway told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show that it is unlikely the virus can be suppressed, which reinforces the need for a vaccine and “some form of treatment”.

“Unfortunately I don’t think this will be a three-month phenomenon, I think for at least a year we will see Covid-19 in our population . . . and if numbers begin to rise above a level with which we can cope, then the restrictions will have to be re-imposed,” said Dr Motherway.

The Health Service Executive said on Sunday it has eliminated the backlog of people waiting for Covid-19 tests. It said 27 laboratories, including one in Germany, are now processing 10,000 test results a day.

Over the weekend, 4,000 staff and residents in nursing homes were tested as part of a heightened response by the HSE to escalating cases and deaths in the sector. The number of outbreaks or suspected outbreaks in long-term residential care facilities now stands at 248, according to the HSE.

Mr Harris will speak to his European counterparts by teleconference later on Monday to share updates on how efforts to tackle the virus are going across the European Union.