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Ireland announces tougher measures to tackle coronavirus outbreak

Leo Varadkar said the public has to do more to flatten the curve of the outbreak.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced tougher measures in the fight against Covid-19 (Niall Carson/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced tougher measures in the fight against Covid-19 (Niall Carson/PA)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced tougher measures in the fight against Covid-19 (Niall Carson/PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has introduced a number of sweeping measures to tackle the coronavirus, including restricting all public gatherings to four people.

The Taoiseach said all non-essential retail should close, including all theatres, clubs and bingo halls, and that people should work from home unless absolutely essential.

Urging everyone to stay at home to slow the spread of Covid-19, Mr Varadkar said the public has to do more to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak.

The measures were introduced on the day when the seventh coronavirus-linked death was announced. The victim was a male from the east of the country with an underlying health condition.

There were 204 new cases confirmed in the state on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,329.

Mr Varadkar said that all sporting events, even those behind closed doors, are cancelled.

Speaking at Government Buildings in Dublin on Tuesday, he said: “People should stay at home if at all possible – this is the best way to slow the virus.”

Total coronavirus cases in Ireland
(PA Graphics)

Mr Varadkar said all cafes and restaurants should limit supply to takeaway only.

He confirmed the Government is to increase the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support payment for people who have been laid off due to the virus from 203 euro to 350 euro per week.

The payment will also apply to the self-employed who are affected by Covid-19.

An emergency wage subsidy scheme was also confirmed, under which the Government will pay 70% of a worker’s salary up to a cap of 410 euro per week net – equivalent to the after-tax income of a worker on around 40,000 euro.

Mr Varadkar said all gatherings outdoors are limited to a maximum of four people but not in the case of families.

He said more park rangers will be present to ensure social distancing measures are complied with.

Gardai will “increase interventions” to ensure compliance with the measures but such interventions will be used “sparingly”, he said.

Mr Varadkar said private hospitals “will act effectively as public hospitals” for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “Private hospitals have agreed to do this on a not-for-profit basis.

“Public and private patients will be treated equally.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said patients with Covid-19 will be treated for free in a single national hospital service.

Mr Harris said all private hospitals will be public or run by the State for the duration of the pandemic.

He said: “There can be no public vs private here.”

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the measures have had to be stepped up due to the fact more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Republic.

He said: “Forty-five per cent of the cases have been community transmission where we have not been able to identify the original source through contact tracing and one in four of the cases are healthcare workers.

“We need to move rapidly, comprehensively and quickly. That is why we have stepped up the measures.”

Mr Varadkar said he did not want to describe the new measures in the Republic of Ireland as a “lockdown”.

“I wouldn’t use the term lockdown. It is a term that causes a lot more confusion than clarity and is therefore one that I don’t intend to use.”

Mr Varadkar said any person in a household who is asked to self-isolate because a fellow householder is showing symptoms is entitled to illness benefit at a rate of 350 euro per week.

“The Covid-19 illness benefit will also apply to household members who are also being asked to self-isolate but do not have the virus themselves,” Mr Varadkar added.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the country is “accosted by a pandemic that knows no border or boundaries”.

Speaking at a Government briefing in Dublin, Mr Donohoe said: “If this public health crisis is like no other, than this economic crisis is also very different to others.

“It requires a different response. It needs speed and it needs scale and this is because the very severe disruption that has occurred has placed otherwise healthy and viable businesses in jeopardy.

“The wage subsidy screen agreed today is a payment to employers to encourage them to retain employees on their payroll during this period.

“It will be available to all employers who suffer either a minimum of 25% decline in turnover, an inability to pay normal wages and outgoings and other circumstances.

“For the next 12 weeks such employers will be supported in the order of 70% of an employee’s income and the maximum weekly tax free payment will be 410 euro per employee.”

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said: “We want to ensure that businesses are able to keep their employees on their books so that when we come out the other side, Ireland and our citizens can get back to work as quickly as possible.

“By keeping that crucial link between the employer and the employee, we will be best placed to kick-start the economy once again.

“It’s also worth remembering that for many firms there are ways to use this time productively.

“It could be an opportunity to put staff on online training courses, get feedback from employees, consider how you could make your business leaner, more innovative and more competitive and draw plans to improve productivity.”

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, said the predicted number of 400,000 job losses is a conservative figure.

She added: “I think it’s almost impossible to predict the scale of the employment loss.

“I know I’m on record of one day last week predicting that maybe some 400,000 jobs may go, but I actually believe that this is a conservative figure, because the job losses of the scale expected will pose a threat of significant societal effects.

“I think that’s why since the crisis first began, we immediately introduced a system of emergency payments to get money into people’s hands, fast, until we had designed a more robust response.”

PA