All St Patrick's Day parades cancelled; €2.4bn package for workers impacted by coronavirus agreed

All St Patrick's Day parades cancelled;  €2.4bn package for workers impacted by coronavirus agreed

- with reporting by Press Association

St Patrick’s Day parades across the country have been cancelled as the Government agreed on the next phase of the country's Covid-19 response.

The Government has also announced a package of €3bn to support the HSE, workers who have to take sick leave and businesses impacted by coronavirus.

As of Monday morning, there were 33 confirmed cases of coronavirus on the island of Ireland - 21 in the Republic of Ireland with 12 in the North.

A special cabinet committee on Covid 19, chaired by Leo Varadkar, has decided that St Patrick’s Day parades in the country should not proceed.

A statement revealed the committee made the decision based on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

"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," said the statement.

It added that "the situation in relation to other events and mass gatherings remains under review".

The committee said that "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."

It said that Ireland "remains in the Containment Phase and all necessary measures, based on public health advice, should continue to be implemented."

It added that over the coming weeks and months, the country "will move towards Delay and Mitigation Phases" and the response will be "calibrated in accordance with public health advice."

Leo Varadkar speaking to the media following at a meeting of the special Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 on Monday. Picture: Collins
Leo Varadkar speaking to the media following at a meeting of the special Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 on Monday. Picture: Collins

The Government has also agreed on new supports for health service and workers, including a €2.4bn package for income support.

The statement said: "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."

The main elements of the package 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.

As well as the €2.4bn an initial package for business has been announced including €200m 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," a spokesperson said.

"The estimated cost is in the region of €435 million in 2020."

The money for the HSE has been taken from Brexit emergency funds. Some of the action that will be undertaken by the HSE will be:

  • 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.

Speaking at a press conference today, Mr Varadkar said 60% of the population could contract Covid-19.

“What we have seen from other countries and what we have seen from what is available at the moment, is that we could we could easily have 50 or 60% of our population contracting Covid-19.

“For the vast majority of the population this will be a mild illness and may even by asymptomatic. However there will be a significant part of the population who will require critical care.

“A percentage that we don’t honestly know yet – it could be 1% or 3% – mortality. We just don’t know that with any degree of certainty.

“It is not the kind of thing we have seen in a very long time.”

Mr Varadkar said he thinks the Irish health system “will cope as best as possible”.

This won’t be an ordinary situation If you consider the numbers of people who could become very ill…even if the health service was twice the size it is now we will struggle.

“It will be like nothing in our living memory.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said while it is important for people not to panic, there is no room for complacency.

He said: “Covid-19 is going to make a very serious impact on our country and it is going to require very significant action from state agencies.”

Mr Harris appealed to the public to work in tandem with the government and to “play their role” in containing the spread of Covid-19.

Earlier: All St Patrick's Day parades in Ireland set to be cancelled

All St Patrick's Day parades are to be cancelled after a cabinet sub-committee meeting this afternoon.

A number of parades had already been cancelled due to to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, who had urged the cancellation of the St Patrick’s Day festivities, said the right call had been made.

After attending a meeting of the leaders of Ireland’s political parties, she tweeted: “Meeting of party leaders just concluded. We will meet twice weekly to consider Coronavirus containment plans. The responsible call on St Patrick’s day has been made. We must act together to protect our families and communities #coronavirus.”

The Government has also approved a large financial package to respond to the spread of the virus.

A large amount of that money will be set aside to provide sick pay supports for people who have to self-isolate.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been briefing opposition leaders this afternoon after meeting key Ministers and officials.

Health Minister Simon Harris says vulnerable people need to be reassured during the outbreak.

Mr Harris said: "I want to assure them, we are going to take specific measures to support them.

"I've been working with the HSE to develop a suite of actions we can take to support them.

"It might be more home-help, it might be more nurses available to visit you in your home.

"I've been listening to older people talking in recent days and their fear and worry of being isolated or left alone during this is really palpable."

Earlier: St Patrick's Day parades cancelled in Cork and Dublin

- By Juno McEnroe and Digital Desk staff, with reporting from Press Association

The St Patrick's Day parades in both Cork and Dublin have been cancelled.

The Cork parade was cancelled following a decision by the city council this afternoon.

Amid the outbreak of Covid-19, a risk assessment was carried out by the council based on World Health Organisation guidelines, the council said.

The Council added that due to the size of the crowd expected, and the length of the event, they could not provide the "necessary assurances" in line with the guidelines.

They said that "the welfare of attendees and participants is our primary concern".

Dr John Sheahan, Lord Mayor of Cork, said it was a tough decision to make.

"We just felt we couldn't put in proper procedures in terms of hand hygiene and all the recommendations that are currently out there," he said.

"In that context, it wouldn't be feasible to run a Patrick's Day parade.

"So in the interest of health, we decided we had to cancel it."

A number of parades in the county had already been cancelled including Youghal, Whitegate, Midleton, Blarney and Cobh.

Meanwhile, the Dublin St Patrick's Day parade has also been cancelled after ministers were briefed about the implications of the spread of coronavirus.

The decision was made by the new Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19. The PA news agency understands it follows advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

A senior government source told the Irish Examiner it was "no surprise" about the decision and that the outgoing coalition and health authorities were adopting a “cautious approach”.

The decision comes with 33 cases of the virus on the island of Ireland and amid further restrictions in Europe as it continues to spread.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is this afternoon briefing opposition leaders about the decision to restrict mass gatherings as well as other issues such as sick pay for workers, following the meeting of ministers.

Earlier today, Health Minister Simon Harris said the virus outbreak would become serious and there was a moderate to high risk it could follow what has happened in other European countries.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Harris urged the public not to panic.

“I think that’s a really important message, I know a lot of people are worried,” Mr Harris said.

“Over 80% of us who will get this virus will get a mild illness, but for some of us we will get very sick.

“What we have to do as a government, and what we have to do as a society, is prepare, and particularly prepare to support vulnerable groups of older people and people with underlying health conditions.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“There’s things all of us can do as individuals in terms of trying to slow the spread of this virus because the best possible chance we have in terms of dealing with this virus is to slow its spread.

“That helps our health service, it helps our frontline stuff and it helps us all as individuals.”

He added: “There’s a moderate to high risk of this, according to the European experts, taking hold in a very serious way in Ireland (and) that would require a prioritisation of services.

“It would require for a period of time us focusing on the virus above and beyond other procedures in hospitals.”

Mr Harris said the sub-committee will also make a decision on reducing the number of waiting days for social welfare payments and supports for people who have been told to self-isolate by health authorities.

“One of the things we’ve been looking at across government is can you reduce that waiting period so people can get support more quickly, and that’s something we’ll be considering today,” Mr Harris said.

He also said they are opening more ICU beds to “around 300” and will speak to the country’s private hospitals.

Mr Varadkar has also cancelled his trip to New York tomorrow.

Dublin City authorities are expected now to look at rescheduling events. The decision comes after mounting pressure on the government to postpone the events.

Former Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke has welcomed the news.

"Common sense has prevailed. And I'm sure there will be a great sigh of relief today," he said.

"We can always have the parade again later on in the year.

"It's not about profit, it's about people. It's about their health, it's about their wellbeing."

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department - if this is not possible, phone 112 or 999 and in a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999

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