Varadkar hopes economy back ‘to something close to normality’ by late summer

Tánaiste says no cliff edge for State Covid-19 supports but warns they cannot continue forever

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said rapid antigen testing should be used as an additional health and safety measure and not as a substitute for any other precautions in the workplace. Photograph: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said rapid antigen testing should be used as an additional health and safety measure and not as a substitute for any other precautions in the workplace. Photograph: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg.

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he is hopeful that the economy “can return to something close to normality by late summer”.

In an opening statement to the Oireachtas committee on enterprise and employment ahead of an appearance on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said the Government’s National Economic Recovery Plan - due to be completed within the next fortnight - would outline “targeted assistance for sectors which will continue to be most adversely affected by the pandemic”.

He said this would set out the next steps for emergency pandemic interventions such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and reaffirm the Government’s commitment to avoiding a cliff-edge ending for the supports.

However, Mr Varadkar also warns that the payments, which have cost billions to date, “cannot continue indefinitely”.

Mr Varadkar, the Minister for Enterprise, said the plan would set out the Government’s ambition “not just to return to the pre-pandemic Ireland, but to build a better ‘normal’ - a more inclusive society that is equipped to meet head on the twin challenges of digital and green”.

The Fine Gael leader said the official advice remained that employees should work from home where possible.

Ventilation

He said he had last week published updated guidance on ventilation and on rapid antigen testing with an aim of reducing “the spread of Covid in the workplace and help people get back to work and businesses to open and stay open”.

“It gives clear information on how to use antigen testing appropriately in the workplace. It sets out that these tests should be used as an additional health and safety measure and not as a substitute for any other precautions.”

Mr Varadkar said employers should also consider how they can improve ventilation in workplaces.

“Even simple actions like airing rooms or keeping a window open can make a difference,” he said.

“Although we intend to vaccinate the vast majority of the adult population by the end of June, the reality is some people can’t or won’t take one. Vaccination is and will remain voluntary so it’s important that employers have guidance on how to manage any unvaccinated workers.”

Separately Mr Varadkar told the committee that “appropriate training, competence, on-going de-briefing and supervision within a well-established safe and healthy system of work” should be available to content moderators who seek to prevent the wider distribution of explicit and harmful content online.

Concerns

He said in February he had met a group of content moderators and their representatives and afterwards had written to Facebook “setting out the concerns raised at the meeting”.

“All employers, no matter what sector they are in, have a duty of care towards employees to ensure that a safe working environment is created. This includes the management of workplace stressors or psycho-social hazards,” he said.

He said appropriate training must be provided and employers must carry out a risk assessment with a particular focus on potential hazards in relation to content moderation work.