Government plan for extra €2bn Covid-19 fund criticised over lack of detail

Parliamentary Budget Office expresses concern over plan for more pandemic funding

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The Government is to ask the Oireachtas to approve almost €2 billion in additional funding for the health service this week to deal with the Covid-19 emergency.

The Government is also to look for authorisation for an increased allocation of €483 million for jobs and enterprise development.

The revised spending authorisation, if approved by the Oireachtas, will see expenditure on health exceed €20 billion for the first time.

However, further supplementary funding for the health service may be required later in the year, a report by the Parliamentary Budget Office in the Oireachtas has suggested. It is critical of a lack of detail from Government on how the additional funding will be spent.

“The HSE generates its own income. If the pandemic reduces the income of the HSE in 2020 below what has been budgeted for, a supplementary estimate may be necessary on that basis alone.”

Further funding could also be needed if there is a second surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

The deferral of treatment for patients during the pandemic and the increase in waiting lists may result “in a significant knock-on effect on non-pandemic public healthcare spending later in 2020 and into 2021”, the report also warns.

It suggests two significant components will be the roughly €320 million for personal protective equipment (PPE) and the estimated €115 million per month cost of taking over private hospitals to provide additional capacity during the peak of the pandemic.

“The lack of any detail on pandemic-related spending beyond labelling three subheads is of some concern, in particular when considered alongside the absence of context and impact indicators and performance metrics related to the pandemic.”

Overseas travel

Separately, as hairdressers, pubs serving food, churches and creches reopened yesterday, public health officials doubled down on their opposition to any loosening of overseas travel rules, with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan saying holidaymakers should cancel their bookings.

Asked whether people should cancel their summer holidays abroad, Dr Holohan urged them not to travel in their own individual and the collective interest.

He urged people intending to holiday overseas to think about the risk to themselves, family members and society. “Think about other people and the risk you might pose even if you [are infected and] recover very well, for people who are more vulnerable.”

No new deaths of patients with Covid-19 were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Monday but another 24 new confirmed cases of the disease were recorded. Nine of the cases involved people under 35, and six involved foreign travel.

One cluster required testing for over 20 contacts of the original case, who had travelled to Iraq from the northwest.

‘Worrying’ trends

Dr Holohan said public health officials were beginning to see some “worrying” new trends, with the number of reported cases increasing and some new clusters.

On the issue of travel restrictions and the potential to ease the two-week quarantine rules for those arriving from outside the island of Ireland, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said a “substantive decision will be taken on that” at a future Cabinet meeting.

“We would look at European methodology around this in terms of a science-based approach,” he said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: “We can’t seal off the country.”

“We are in a Common Travel Area with the UK, we have a Border with the North and there are still flights coming in at the moment. But we will have to manage the risk, which is the key thing here and it is a risk.

“We are going to have to be very careful in terms of Covid as it flares up and act quickly in local areas,” Mr Ryan added.

He said people should continue to restrict “travel to when it is absolutely necessary” and encouraged people to holiday domestically this summer rather than travel abroad.

Gobally the Covid-19 pandemic is “actually speeding up” WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.

“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is that this is not even close to being over,” he said, adding “the worst is yet to come”.

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