Coronavirus: Numbers receiving pandemic payment falls as thousands return to work

WHO says best distance to keep from people to avoid inhaling droplets is two metres

A Government spokesperson has announced that approximately 35,600 people who were in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment have returned to work as part of phase one of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. Video: RTÉ


About 35,600 people who were receiving the Government’s special coronavirus unemployment payment returned to work last week.

These 35,600 people informed the Department of Social Protection they were returning to work and 33,400 of these will be receiving their last payment of €350 this week.

It is understood that many of these people are employed in construction and other sectors which saw a resumption of work last week as the first phase of the easing of restrictions began on May 18th.

Overall there are 579,400 people receiving the special pandemic unemployment payment this week, valued at €202.8 million – a fall of 5,200 on the figure for last week. Separately, about 482,800 people working for about 56,300 employers have had at least one payment supported by the Government’s separate Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme.

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Meanwhile, a disease control expert has warned of repeated waves and surges of coronavirus for the next four years.

Prof Gerry Killeen, research chair in applied pathogen ecology at the school of biological, earth and environmental sciences in University College Cork said coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, will become an endemic pathogen, “something that is permanently part of our landscape”.

Prof Killeen said it was not good enough to flatten the curve. He said the virus needed to be crushed, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The actions taken against the virus in Ireland have been too slow and half-hearted, he said, particularly with regard to incoming travellers and asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

“It is guaranteed that a second wave will come when they ease restrictions. Why embark on a journey that will backfire?” he said.

Prof Killeen said the existing restrictions should go on for longer so that the virus can be eliminated from the country. “The implications are huge.”

Keeping restrictions in place for another two to four months would eliminate the virus, he said. Otherwise the cycle of lockdowns and restrictions could extend over the next four years.

Prof Killeen said there was no doubt a lot of businesses would close and the restrictions would have a huge impact on people’s lives.

For some they had already gone past the point of no return, he said and some would never recover.

“This pandemic is going to have a huge impact on the economy.”

The question that must be asked, he said, was how much damage would be done by four years of repeated restrictions and surges of the virus.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) said four additional Covid-19 deaths and 57 new cases were reported on Sunday, a significant fall when compared with the height of the crisis. The figures bring the total deaths to 1,608 and cases to 24,639.

Two-metre rule

Meanwhile, minutes of emergency team meetings show the Government’s expert advisory group on the pandemic believed there was a “lack of evidence” to support social distancing guidelines being two metres rather than one.

The issue has been raised in recent days by some Cabinet members who want the distance reduced. Such a change would make it much easier for schools and businesses to reopen but Mr Varadkar said at the weekend “there is no change” to the 2m rule.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro has said 2m distance guidance “keeps you safe 99 per cent of the time”, but you can “greatly reduce your risk by maintaining a one metre distance”.

Dr Nabarro told RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney on Monday morning that 70 per cent of droplets from a person’s cough will travel within one metre, and that “very few of them travel further than two metres”.

“The WHO and others have said the best distance to keep away from people if you want to avoid inhaling a droplet is two metres. That’s because that will keep you safe 99 per cent of the time but you can greatly reduce risk even at one metre because 70 per cent of the droplets will stick within one metre.”

Dr Nabarro said it is a balance of risk, and a choice that must be made based on a personal set of circumstances. If you really want to reduce the risk of picking up an infection stay at least two metres away, he said.

“But if you are in a difficult situation where you have to be in close proximity to someone, if you’re providing care or if you are working in factory where two metres doesn’t work you can still greatly reduce the risk by being one metre away,” according to Dr Nabarro.

Ventilation, the weather, and an individual’s style of coughing are three factors that can affect the transmission capacity of the virus, Dr Nabarro said.

On the issue of face masks Dr Nabarro said “a poorly worn face mask is no good”, and that he believes that the “quality of mask wearing is going to become a big issue”.

He said: “If you are sitting next to somebody on a flight that has a nasty cough and you happen to take your face mask off to eat or drink you might end up getting the coronavirus.”

He added that in order for the face mask to be effective on a flight he believes that it would have to be worn for the flight’s duration.

Lifting of lockdown

The Government is considering accelerating the easing of restrictions during later phases.

After the next phase in the planned easing of the lockdown on June 8th, there is a further phase on June 29th, and another on July 20th.

If the numbers of cases and deaths continue to fall in the coming weeks, some aspects of the July 20th opening could be brought forward to June 29th.

Assistant secretary general at the Department of Taoiseach Liz Canavan said at a briefing on Monday that any potential changes to social distancing guidelines must be “slow” and “incremental”.

“There is a lot of discussion and speculation about whether some of the public health advice and the roadmap schedule for reopening will change.

“Firstly on social distancing, the current advice from NPHET and the ECDC [European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control] is that a distance of two metres should be observed between individuals,” Ms Canavan said.

“That remains the public health advice from the Government. Similar advice is in the place in very many countries around the world.”

The Government has urged the public not to make appointments with shops to buy non-essential items amid reports of businesses allowing customers to browse furniture and homeware items. “At the moment the overriding aim is for people to stay at home except for essential purposes. Appointments to shop for homeware, furniture or other non-essential items are not part of phase one. The focus should remain on online ordering or delivery,” Ms Canavan said.

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