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Businesses will not reopen if they can't get Covid-19 insurance, says Howlin

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said businesses fear being held liable for their employees or their customers becoming victims of Covid-19.

Insurers were criticised for not paying out on claims at the outset of the outbreak.
Insurers were criticised for not paying out on claims at the outset of the outbreak.

BUSINESSES WILL NOT be able to reopen after restrictions are lifted if they cannot avail of Covid-19 insurance, according to Labour TD Brendan Howlin.

When the Covid-19 outbreak occurred insurers were criticised for not paying out on claims made by a number of businesses, such as pubs, that were forced to close due to the lockdown.

The insurance industry maintained that standard business interruption policies here do not support a claim for a pandemic such as Covid-19.

In a bid to convince the industry to play ball, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe held a virtual meeting with insurance companies two weeks ago. 

“Insurance Ireland has come back to me and has said that it now accepts that there is no difference at all between advice issued by government and a direction issued by government as to whether a business should close down.  

“I plan to engage further with the insurance sector on this matter in the coming days now that this principle is clear,” he told the Dáil at the time, but insurance companies are continuing to refuse payouts.

While the issue of past claims is yet to be rectified, Howlin said another “critical issue” is on the horizon with insurers when the restrictions are lifted and businesses begin to reopen.

Howlin said he spoke to a prominent hotelier who said that due to the issue of liability and the duty of care, they would not be able to reopen if their insurance company will not cover them for Covid-19.

He said if a worker or a guest contracts the virus while staying there, there is a fear the owner could be held liable. He said the government needed to direct insurance companies to cover businesses.

As the construction industry readies itself to reopen in the coming weeks, a health and safety letter seen by this website from a construction company to a subcontractor states that Covid-19 insurance is needed if they want to work on site.

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“It will now be impossible for companies and businesses to get Covid-19 insurance. Any renewal of insurance will not cover that. It will be impossible for businesses to open without that insurance. That is what they are telling me directly,” Howlin said today.

They cannot take the risk of being liable for their employees or their customers becoming victims of Covid-19 if they are not insured against it. We must have a solution to that, some sort of indemnity or insurability.

“One cannot sue if one gets the flu when visiting the local supermarket. We need to address that issue or businesses will not reopen when this phase passes,” he said, asking Business Minister Heather Humphreys to look at the issue of insurance liability as a matter of urgency.

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