No return to office workplaces until September, Tánaiste predicts

Leo Varadkar says people should still work from home and promises ‘no cliff-edge’ when financial supports end

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (right), pictured with Minister for Culture Catherine Martin and Taoiseach Micheál Martin, said the advice to work from home “remains the same”. Photograph: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (right), pictured with Minister for Culture Catherine Martin and Taoiseach Micheál Martin, said the advice to work from home “remains the same”. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said it is unlikely there will be a return to offices until September, by which time there is expected to be a “critical mass” of people vaccinated.

Speaking as the Government announced the easing of Covid-19 restrictions from May 10th, Mr Varadkar said that the advice to work from home “remains the same”.

He said: “People should work from home, if at all possible, only go into their workplace if it’s absolutely necessary.

“And even in those scenarios to try to make arrangements that there’s only one person in the workplace where that arises or where that’s possible.”

He added: “I realistically think it’s unlikely that we’ll see a return to the office until September when we’ve got a critical mass of people fully vaccinated.

“It might happen before then but if I was saying to employers to have in mind a time when we begin the phased return to offices it’s more likely to be September than before that.”

However, he said thousands of businesses will reopen and hundreds of thousands of people will be able to return to work.

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and Covid-19 Restriction Support Scheme (CRSS) will remain in place until at least the end of June.

There will be a double payment of CRSS to help hospitality businesses reopen and the reduced 9 per cent VAT rate will stay in place until the end of the year.

Mr Varadkar said 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 “won’t be a cliff-edge”.

Mr Varadkar said there could be a “mini-boom” in the time ahead as people spend savings, but he said Government wanted to make sure financial supports are not withdrawn as spending dissipates.

The response to the pandemic was being financed with borrowed money, and the best way to service and refinance debt was through a rapid economy recovery.

Meanwhile, Minister for Culture Catherine Martin said the Government is looking at the safe reopening of cinemas and theatres in June.

Cinemas are slated for opening on June 7th.

Ms Martin also said Cabinet agreed that her Department, along with the Department of Health and the Department of Taoiseach, will prepare proposals on the holding of a limited number of pilot large events for sport and music, including both indoor and outdoor.

Ms Martin was asked when “trial” events for entertainment and sport may take place, and it was also put to her that there was an anomaly if people were to be allowed to go into cinemas and theatres but not attend outdoor events.

She said she could not offer a specific date for the pilot events but said the details were being mapped out and she would get a report from the Return to Live Entertainment Working Group.

On the comparison to cinemas and theatres, she said a “staggered approach” was being taken.

“It’s large scale events I’m looking at so it would be significantly larger than cinemas or theatres,” she said.

“It’s really complex from planning, from ticketing, to the crowd management, to how you travel to and from, and anything from looking at the use of testing to analysing the crowd management.”

She said “as soon as it can be done and the public health guidelines allow we will proceed”.

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