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Taoiseach: It may be up to new government to cut pandemic unemployment payment

Leo Varadkar said anomalies in the social welfare system mean some people are making more money on the unemployment payment than while working.

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Handout photo of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Government Buildings, Dublin (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Handout photo of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Government Buildings, Dublin (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Handout photo of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Government Buildings, Dublin (Photocall Ireland/PA)

A decision on extending or cutting the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment may have to be made by the next government, the Taoiseach has said.

The 350 euro weekly payment is due to expire on June 8 but Leo Varadkar confirmed it will continue past this date.

However, Mr Varadkar told the Dail the decision to extend it may not be made by the current government.

Government formation talks are ongoing, more than 100 days since February’s inconclusive general election result.

Mr Varadkar said: “The economy is only slowly opening up now and it is going to have to be extended.

“Nobody needs to worry, the payment expires if you get your job back but anyone who has not been offered their job back will continue to receive the payment beyond June.

“Government will have to make a decision.

“This government or the new government will have to make a decision as to how long it will be extended until.

“We also have to deal with some of the anomalies as some people are receiving more money on the payment than they did in January or February before the pandemic began.

“None of these decisions have to be made now and they may well be decisions for the next government and we may require a further revised estimates in the coming weeks.”

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,631 on Wednesday, after a further 17 deaths were reported.

There were 73 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed, taking the total in Ireland since the outbreak began to 24,803.

On Wednesday, the Minister for Health said that the reproduction number – the number of people an infected person infects – was between 0.4 and 0.5 this week.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Simon Harris told the Dail that it gives grounds for “cautious optimism”.

“It suggests a stable transition, where we have kept this virus under control while moving to the first phase of reopening our society,” he added.

“The modelling also shows the key measures of severity, the number of people in hospital and in intensive care have also remained stable through the last week.

“We have seen one to two admissions a day to intensive care units and 10 to 15 admissions to hospital beds.

“It seems at this stage that despite some more businesses opening and more people moving some what, we the Irish people, have managed to keep control of this virus so far.

“That is done to the people of Ireland, it’s down to their incredible efforts and incredible self discipline.”

Earlier, the HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said Covid-19 has been moved off the streets of Ireland and is mainly being spread among households.

Dr Henry said the number of contacts of people confirmed with Covid-19 is now less than three.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Dr Henry told RTE Morning Ireland: “It is important to remind people of the gains that we have made as a country.

“We have seen a 70% reduction in the number of people in our ICUs and a 70% reduction in the number of people in our hospitals.

“We have seen the virus beaten off the streets in our towns and cities and into households.

“So much so that the number of contacts per confirmed case has gone from a peak of 20 to less than three and sometimes two.

Elsewhere, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has warned Ireland’s debt could return to near-record levels due to Covid-19.

The council said it could reach 160% of gross national income, up from 99% in 2019.

It has also warned it could take up to three and a half years for the economy to return to pre-crisis levels.

PA