Government urged to provide clarity on future of Covid supports

Opposition also calls for use of rapid Covid tests and up-to-date public health messaging

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that today’s announcement was ‘long overdue’ good news but argued that there has to be an increased commitment to testing and tracing and ensuring vaccinations are accelerated.File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that today’s announcement was ‘long overdue’ good news but argued that there has to be an increased commitment to testing and tracing and ensuring vaccinations are accelerated.File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government has been urged to provide clarity on the future of financial supports for pandemic-hit businesses and workers and also to commit to the use of rapid Covid-19 tests as the country begins to reopen.

Opposition politicians broadly welcomed plans for the easing of restrictions but also warned that the Government must ensure there is no return to lockdown.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that today’s announcement was “long overdue” good news but argued that there has to be an increased commitment to testing and tracing and ensuring vaccinations are accelerated.

She said these are the defences needed “to ensure that not alone that we reopen but that we stay open and we don’t lapse backwards again into spikes of infection and further restrictions.”

Ms McDonald said her party is seeking “absolute clarity” on the future of financial supports for businesses and workers and said this “has not as of yet been forthcoming”. She told RTÉ news that people need to know that there is not just no cliff edge “but that there is no decision to start phasing things out in a way that would cause huge problems for people”.

In his speech this evening Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the employment wage subsidy scheme and pandemic unemployment payment will remain in place until at least the end of June.

He said the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme will remain in place and will be of help to the hospitality sector which will open with “severe restrictions”.

Mr Varadkar said that the Government will set out a plan for the future of financial supports from July onwards at the end of May.

He said he wanted to make it clear it there “will not be a cliff edge, even then”.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the announcement was an “important moment” and he’s conscious that the public health advice supports the Government’s decisions. He said the Government must use every tool at its disposal to keep the virus under control.

Testing

Mr Kelly said he has repeatedly raised the important role that rapid antigen testing can play adding: “We should be looking at rolling out the model used in the UK, where every household has been given seven free tests.

“It is vital that we continue to find and isolate any new cases of Covid-19. Having come this far, the reluctance from Government to rapidly roll out these tests makes no sense,” he said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said that as the country reopens the Government must do everything in its power to ensure there is no return to lockdown.

She said there are “many reasons to be optimistic” and “hope is now on the horizon”.

Ms Shortall expressed concern in what she argued was a “lack of evolution in the public safety messaging”, which is focused on hand hygiene and social distancing rather than reflecting that Covid is airborne and outdoor socialising is much safer. She said: “Given all we know about the increased risk that comes from being indoors, the Government should be offering businesses clear guidance on ventilation and advice regarding the ways in which it can be improved.”

Ms Shortall added: “Rapid antigen testing, PCR testing, contact tracing and, of course, the vaccine programme, are all weapons in our arsenal that must be deployed to ensure that the reopening timetable, announced by the Taoiseach this evening, is adhered to.”

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