Government announce ‘unprecedented’ moves in bid to halt coronavirus

The Government has announced a raft of new measures to limit movement, throw the economy a lifeline, and secure jobs as it steps up the fight against Covid-19.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Simon Harris (left) and Dr Tony Holohan (right) at a Covid-19 press briefing at Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture: Steve Humphreys/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Simon Harris (left) and Dr Tony Holohan (right) at a Covid-19 press briefing at Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture: Steve Humphreys/PA Wire

The unprecedented moves came as the number of positive cases rose to 1,329, up from 1,125.

A seventh person died from Covid-19 yesterday.

Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said 45% of positive cases are through community transmission where health staff could not identify the source of the virus, which forced medical experts to advise that the State step up social distancing measures.

Significant restrictions on movement came into effect from last night and will run until April 19.

The public has been advised to:

  • Stay inside and work from home, unless attendance is essential;
  • Only go to the shops for essential supplies.

It was also announced that people can attend medical or dental appointments or care for others.

Physical exercise is still allowed, but social gatherings should be of no more than four people, unless all from the same household.

School and college closures have been extended until April 19.

Non-essential indoor visits to other people’s homes should be avoided and no unnecessary travel should take place within Ireland or overseas, now or over the Easter break.

Places of worship are to restrict numbers entering to ensure adequate social distancing, while playgrounds and holiday and caravan parks are closed.

All household contacts of a suspect case, including a person awaiting a test or result, should restrict movements until as test is reported negative or for 14 days from the onset of symptoms.

A raft of restrictions regarding the closures of non-essential retail businesses and facilities also came into force from midnight.

Construction sites and factories do not have to close but physical distancing must be employed.

The measures include:

  • Theatres, clubs, gyms and leisure centres, hairdressers, betting shops, marts, markets, casinos, bingo halls, libraries, and other similar outlets are to shut;
  • Hotels are to limit occupancy to non-social and non-tourist reasons;
  • All cafes and restaurants are to limit supply to take- away food or delivery;
  • All sporting events are cancelled, including those behind closed doors;
  • Organised social indoor and outdoor events of any size are not to take place.

A €3.7bn financial package was also announced in order to soften the blow for the economy, as Social Protection Regina Doherty said that her previous prediction of 400,000 job losses now looks “conservative”.

The package includes:

  • A wage subsidy scheme will see the State fund up to 70% of pay, with a maximum weekly tax-free payment of €410 per employee;
  • Rates for the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment will rise to €350 per week;

  • Enhanced illness payment for those required to self-isolate or those diagnosed with coronavirus, will be increased from €305 to €350.

It has been reported that childcare workers wages will be topped up beyond the 70% level for other businesses, and parents will not be asked to pay creche fees for up to three months.

Taoiseach Leo Vardakar said what was needed now was a national effort.

“All of us are a little bit afraid,” he said. “Stay at home if at all possible. We cannot stop the virus but we can push it back, and all of our resources are being deployed in the national effort.

The cost of all of this will be great, but we can bear it and we will be able to pay it back and we do so willingly because it is the right thing to do.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said any surplus set aside for the Brexit fallout has already been used but he was confident Ireland would be able to access funds to borrow if needed.

In the health sector, a framework agreement with private hospitals has been agreed, meaning they will operate as public hospitals for the duration of the emergency, which they have agreed to do on a not-for-profit basis, after consultation with the Government, which should add around 2,000 beds for public use.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Joe McHugh said the main focus of his department is on having the state exams as normal in the June 3 to 23 period.

Elsewhere, emergency legislation to impose a three-month rent freeze and a ban on evictions was approved by the Cabinet, and will be dealt with by the Dáil tomorrow.

It is likely to be approved by the Seanad on Friday.

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