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Government announces coronavirus funding of €435 million for HSE as St Patrick's Day festival cancelled

The decision was taken at a cabinet sub-committee this afternoon.

Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Updated Mar 9th 2020, 6:01 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced it will provide €435 million to the HSE to assist in its response to the coronavirus.

The funding allocation is one of a number of actions the government agreed on today, as Ireland deals with 19 confirmed cases of Covid-19. 

Earlier today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed all St Patrick’s Day parades across the country are to be cancelled. The decision was taken at a cabinet sub-committee meeting this afternoon and follows the advice of public health officials. 

Other Dublin events in the festival such as the festival village at Merrion Square, the treasure hunt and the annual Céilí Mór have also all been cancelled. More than 100 small to medium scale events such as exhibitions and talks will still take place. 

At a briefing this evening, the government said it has decided on the next phase of Ireland’s response to the health emergency, including:

  • A package of reforms for sick pay, illness benefit and supplementary benefit designed to ensure employees and the self-employed can follow medical advice to self-isolate while having their income protected. This is estimated to cost up to €2.4 billion;
  • An initial package for business including €200 million in liquidity funding;
  • The HSE is scaling up its actions to deal with a population impact over the coming months and the estimated cost of addressing the service demand is in the region of €435 million. 

Officials said Ireland is still in the ‘containment phase; and all necessary measures will continue to be implemented. However it is expected the country will move towards the ‘delay’ and mitigation’ phases over the coming weeks and months and this funding will form part of the response. 

The HSE funding

The €435 million allocated for the HSE’s response will pay for the following:

  • Strengthening public health capacity for contact tracing and response;
  • Freeing up as much space as possible in hospitals – in particular intensive care and high-dependency unit capacity;
  • 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 services outside hospitals;
  • 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. 

Income support

The government has decided to waive the requirement for six waiting days for sick pay in respect of medically certified cases of self-isolation. 

The means test required for supplementary welfare allowance will also be removed in cases of medically certified 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 the duration of the person’s certified absence from work due to a diagnosis. 

Self employed people will be entitled to receive either illness benefit or non-means tested supplementary welfare allowance. 

The government also announced the provision of €200 million liquidity support for impacted firms. 

The existing systematic short-time working scheme will be available for employees who may be placed on reduced working arrangements. 

Ministers will also meet with banks and other “important economic actors” to discss mitigating the adverse economic impact of the virus. 

Earlier today it was announced the Taoiseach would cut short the traditional St Patrick’s trip to the US in order to deal with the evolving situation.

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Daragh Brophy

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