Businesses could reopen sooner if Covid-19 spread continues to slow, says Humphreys

‘If trend continues we can begin to reopen economy in line with roadmap, if not more quickly’

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys. File photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys. File photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

 

Businesses in Ireland could reopen more quickly than set out in the Government’s roadmap if the spread of coronavirus continues to slow, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has indicated.

In an interview on Monday on the Irish Times Confronting Coronavirus podcast, Ms Humphreys said figures showing a slower spread of the illness, also known as Covid-19, were encouraging and could expedite the roadmap setting out the timetable for the reopening of the economy, if the trend continues.

“We saw from the figures this week that we are continuing flattening the curve,” said Ms Humphreys.

“If that trend continues we can begin to reopen the economy in line with the roadmap, if not more quickly.”

However, she said: “If the figures go against us and they go up again we may have to reintroduce restrictions.”

The five-phase roadmap currently starts on May 18th, with the return of outdoor workers and primarily outdoor retailers. The second phase, due to start on June 8th, will see marts and small retail outlets reopen. Schools and colleges will reopen in September and October at the beginning of the next academic year. Cafes and restaurants will reopen on June 29th and pubs will reopen on August 10th.

Pressed by presenter Deirdre Veldon on the reopening schedule, especially for small businesses like hairdressers and public houses, which will among the last to reopen, Ms Humphreys said: “If we do well on the figures and if we manage to reduce the amount of people who are contracting the virus there is flexibility in the roadmap to allow them open more quickly.

“Again, we will have to be guided by public health advice but certainly the flexibility is there in the public health road map,” she said.

The Minister also indicated that the Government may consider lowering the VAT rate on the hospitality sector from 13 per cent to 9 per cent.

This rate was reduced by the 2011 coalition government during the last recession to assist the sector but was returned to its 13 per cent in last October’s budget by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

She said this change would require legislation and that cannot be passed until a new government has taken office.

“Bespoke supports for the hospitality sector will be needed and that will be an absolute priority for an incoming government,” she said.

Ms Humphreys also outlined some of the protocols that will be in place for employers, as employees return to work. They will include staggered lunchbreaks and coffee breaks, and solutions for arriving in work and for using toilet facilities.

She said the solutions would be different for a small shop compared to a large factory but she trusted businesses to come up with good solutions.

She said there would not be significant costs attached and also pointed out the supports available for businesses reopening after the crisis.

“It is not going to cost anything to tell employees not to shake hands,” she said.

On the issue of wearing face masks in workplaces, she said there was no requirement to do so at present but the National Public Health Emergency Team was looking at the issue.

She said the Government would be guided by its advice.