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Leo Varadkar making the announcement this afternoon.
Leo Varadkar making the announcement this afternoon.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Taoiseach announces all non-essential shops to close, restrictions on gatherings of more than four people

The new measures were confirmed today.
Mar 24th 2020, 4:10 PM 248,808 313

Updated Mar 24th 2020, 4:54 PM

A RAFT OF new public health measures have been announced to combat the spread of Covid-19. 

It follows a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team this morning, with these measures then finalised at a meeting of Cabinet this afternoon.

The Taoiseach said this afternoon measures were agreed in three areas – preventing the spread of the virus, helping those who lost their jobs and new emergency legislation. Minister for Health Simon Harris says all of this will seem “surreal” to people, but the government would be honest with the Irish public throughout this crisis. 

These measures will take effect from tonight and remain in place until Sunday 19 April.

All non-essential retail outlets are being told to close, with restaurants and cafes told to close unless they can offer a take-away option. Supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open.

Other retailers deemed essential include opticians, fuel stations, laundries, banks, post offices, credit unions and hardware stores.

essential retail

There will be no restrictions on the amount of times a person can leave their home a day but people are being told not to exceed groups of four people. 

Individuals should work from home unless workplace attendance is essential.

All theatres, clubs, gyms/leisure centres, hairdressers, betting shops, marts, markets, casinos, bingo halls, libraries and similar outlets are to close. 

All sporting events are cancelled, including those behind closed doors. All playgrounds and holiday/caravan parks to close. 

All hotels are to limit occupancy to essential non-social and non-tourist reasons.

All places of worship are to restrict numbers entering at any one time to ensure people observe social distancing. All organised social indoor or outdoor events of any size are not to take place. 

All crowded places, including public amenities, should be avoided.

All non-essential indoor visits to other persons’ homes should be avoided.

Gardaí are to increase interventions where venues or outlets are not in compliance with, or where groups of people are not adhering to recommended social distancing measures.

Schools – originally told to close until 29 March – will not re-open on Monday with the closure order set to be extended. 

The Taoiseach said that contingency plans are being worked on to allow the Leaving Cert exams to go ahead. ”We’ll do everything possible to make sure the Leaving Cert goes ahead,” he said. 

On all of these measures, Varadkar said: “I wouldn’t use the term lockdown.”

The term seems to mean different things for different countries, and what we need now is clarity, the Taoiseach said. “I think it’s a term that actually causes more confusion than clarity,” he said, so it’s not one he’ll be using.

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.

Welfare and businesses

Varadkar confirmed the government is to increase the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support payment for people from €203 to €350 who have been laid off due to the virus.

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

An emergency wage subsidy scheme will also come into effect whereby the government will pay 70% of a worker’s salary up to a cap of €410 per week net – equivalent to the after-tax income of a worker on around €40,000.

An eligible employer will be supported by up to 70% of the income but the employer is expected to make “best efforts” to maintain as close to 100% of normal income as possible for the subsidised period. There will be “severe penalties” for any abuse of the scheme. 

Employers must self-declare to Revenue that they have experienced significant negative economic disruption due to Covid-19, with a minimum of 25% decline in turnover, and an inability to pay normal wages and other outgoings, in accordance with guidance to be issued by Revenue.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said that original estimates of 400,000 job losses due to the crisis was a “conservative figure”. 

Varadkar also 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 Harris said patients with Covid-19 will be treated for free in a single national hospital service.

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.”

Economy

At the same press conference, the government said that alongside the public health crisis, the economy is also in jeopardy. 

“It needs speed and it needs scale,” Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said, acknowledging that citizens are under “intense strain”. 

The measures to cover Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment as well as the 70% wages for workers will cost an estimated €3.7 billion over a 12-week period.

“We must act now to avoid an even greater economic challenge in the future,” he said. 

There’ll also be support for renters – through legislation to prevent rent increases or the termination of tenancies – and mortgage holders.

So far, 1,125 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Ireland and six people have died. It is expected that the number of cases will rise significantly in the coming days and weeks.

With reporting from Christina Finn

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