The cut-off date for new entrants to pandemic business supports may be extended if more sectoral closures are forced due to the worsening disease in the country, The Irish Times has learned.
A high-powered Government committee met on Monday evening and, while no options were signed off, it’s understood that allowing new entrants into the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is under consideration.
However, with no decisions forthcoming on Monday evening over precisely what form supports might take, it was also unclear whether Government plans for a subsidised antigen test regime would be signed off by the Coalition on Tuesday.
Draft plans for a long-awaited scheme to subsidise antigen tests were drawn up on Monday and were due go to Cabinet. It’s understood that the initial proposal envisaged rolling out the programme through pharmacies first, before other retailers, with a discount of around €4 per test across the board, but this was still under discussion late in the evening with no agreement reached.
While the EWSS is to last until April, it is to close to new entrants at the end of the year.
The top two rates of €350 per week and €300 per week are to go in December, with €203 per week the most an employer can get per staff member from then.
The Irish Times understands that the option of allowing new entrants to the EWSS beyond the current cut-off date if there are renewed closures is on the table, as is extending the system of Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) payments into the new year.
While such options remain a possibility, the Government is not conceding that fresh closures will be necessary.
There was said to have been a general discussion on business supports at the subcommittee meeting on Monday evening and no decisions have been taken.
Sources said the options to be examined are only in the event that businesses have to shut their doors and indicated that the Government will seek to avoid that scenario.
The situation will be kept under review – with advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to be taken into account.
The Department of Health on Monday night reported a further 5,634 Covid-19 cases, a figure described by the State's chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan as a "concerning number". Since June, one in four people with Covid-19 who required critical care died, he said.
One source pointed out that the country is in a much different position than when previous lockdowns were imposed given the extent of the vaccination programme and the rollout of booster shots.
Earlier Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters in Cork that the number of cases of Covid-19 can be reduced without having to go into a lockdown.
He said the Government has other options and responses to help tackle rising case numbers.
Mr Martin said he believes pressure on the health service can be reduced, adding that the booster campaign will "have an impact".
“We can reduce the spread of this virus,” he added.
Setting out the future impact on the health system from the rising number of infections, Dr Holohan said in a statement that 20 to 25 people will end up in hospital for every 1,000 coronavirus cases, while between two and three people will require critical care in intensive care units.
“This information is not easy to hear but it is an important reminder of the serious risk that Covid-19 continues to pose to all of us,” Dr Holohan said.