Parades cancelled as Government announces response to COVID-19 threat

Following a meeting of the special Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 today, the Government has decided on the next phase of Ireland’s response to the global and national public health emergency arising from Covid-19.

Government Actions

The main actions agreed today are:

The main objective in the current phase is to limit and slow down the spread of the virus, to keep the number of affected people to a minimum and reduce peak pressure on the health service;

The public health advice for the containment phase of the response was reaffirmed;

Ireland remains in the Containment Phase and all necessary measures, based on public health advice, should continue to be implemented;

Ireland will move towards Delay and Mitigation Phases over the coming weeks and months, with our response calibrated in accordance with public health advice;

A package of reforms was agreed for sick pay, illness benefit and supplementary benefit that is designed to ensure that employees and the self-employed can abide by medical advice to self-isolate where appropriate, while having their income protected to a far greater degree than under the current social welfare system. This is estimated to cost up to €2.4 billion;

An initial package for business including €200 million in liquidity funding;

The HSE is scaling up its actions to deal with a population impact over the coming months which could produce service demand beyond anything previously experienced. The estimated cost is in the region of €435 million in 2020.

Due to the unique nature and scale of the St Patrick’s Day festivities, in terms of size, the mass gathering of local and international travellers, and the continued progression of community transmission in some European countries, along with the emergence of a small number of cases of local transmission in Ireland, the Government has decided that St Patrick’s Day parades, including the Dublin parade, will not proceed. This is based on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team. The situation in relation to other events and mass gatherings remains under review and any response will be guided by the NPHET which meets again tomorrow, along with the public health advice.

 The Committee was chaired by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and received briefings from relevant Ministers and officials, including the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive.

The Cabinet Committee considered:

The latest information regarding the outbreak of Covid-19;

The ongoing public health response;

The response underway in the Health Service and the future actions required;

The actions being taken and future actions that may be required on a national basis across all Government Departments and Agencies;

Income support for employees and the self-employed who may be affected through illness or self-isolation;

Financial support for businesses who may be affected by adverse trading conditions.

Health Service Response

The HSE will undertake a series of actions at a cost of €435 million. These will include:

Strengthening public health capacity for contact tracing and response;

Freeing up as much space as possible in hospitals, and in particular ensuring maximum capacity in intensive care and high-dependency units;

Developing and scaling community-based responses, such as home testing, remote management of mild to moderately ill patients at home and the provision of dedicated Covid-19 services outside hospitals;

Continuing to build and galvanise community awareness and preventative actions;

Increasing capacity in the health service, through increased staffing, overtime and redeployment;

The opening of additional acute and critical care capacity and the restriction of elective capacity;

Increasing the capacity of the National Ambulance Service;

Centralised procurement of additional essential equipment, such as Personal Protective Equipment, ventilation equipment, dialysis equipment, portable radiography equipment and additional fleet for community care;

Greater use of technology and telephone support.

€2.4 billion for income support

The main elements are:

Waiving the requirement for six waiting days for sick pay in respect of medically certified cases of self-isolation in accordance with public health guidelines;

The removal of the means test requirement for Supplementary Welfare Allowance in respect of medically certified cases of self-isolation;

To contain the transmission of Covid-19, the personal rate of Illness Benefit will be increased from €203 per week to €305 per week for a maximum period of two weeks of medically certified self-isolation, or for the duration of a person’s medically-certified absence from work due to Covid-19 diagnoses;

Self-employed people will be entitled to receive either illness benefit or non-means tested supplementary welfare allowance.

Economic Stimulus and Additional Actions for Business

The Health and Social Welfare actions agreed today represent a significant protection for workers and businesses and represent a total stimulus to the economy estimated at €3 billion.

Other actions to help reduce the wider economic impact include:

The provision of a €200 million liquidity support fund for impacted firms;

The existing systematic short-time working scheme is available for employees who may be placed on reduced working arrangements;

A group will be established involving union and employer representatives, as well as relevant Government Departments and agencies to monitor labour market developments and to lead a joint national communications effort focused on employers and employees (including vulnerable workers, migrant workers and undocumented workers );

Government Ministers will also meet the banks and other important economic actors to ensure there is a joined-up national effort to mitigate the adverse economic impact of the virus.

Next Steps

Representatives from political parties are being briefed this afternoon;

There will be a further meeting with ICTU and IBEC today;

The National Public Health Emergency Team will continue to meet regularly, with its next meeting to take place tomorrow, Tuesday March 10th;

The Senior Officials Group that is co-ordinating the national response will meet again later this week;

The National Stakeholders Group will hold its third meeting later this week;

The Cabinet Committee will meet again on Friday, when it will consider an updated version of the overall national action plan;

Daily media briefings by the Chief Medical Officer and his team in the Department of Health will continue;

The Taoiseach will take part tomorrow in a video conference with other EU leaders to discuss the developing Covid-19 situation;

The Minister for Health and the CMO will meet with their Northern Ireland counterparts later this week.


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