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What the new Covid-19 government measures mean for workers

People are being advised to work from home if possible from 6pm today.

TODAY, TAOISEACH LEO Varadkar announced this morning that schools, colleges and childcare facilities will close from 6pm this evening to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

All will remain shut until 29 March, Varadkar announced earlier this morning in the United States. 

Workplaces have not been ordered to shut on the same scale at this time.

Varadkar was clear that people should continue going to work if they can, but should work from home if possible. 

Mass gatherings of more than 100 people indoors and more than 500 people outdoors are being advised against. “Cultural institutions” have also been told to close, including museums, galleries and tourism sites. 

Government ministers were clear that there is a difference between a workplace of more than 100 people and a “mass gathering”.

“The guidelines and requests we’re making today are not meant to shut down the workplace that has more than 100 people. That’s not a public gathering,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said.  

However, break times and working times are asked to be staggered to reduce “unnecessary face to face interaction in the workplace”.  

Meetings should also be done remotely or over the phone if possible, Varadkar said. 

Simon Coveney said that these measures “will have an impact on people’s ability to do their jobs”.

“Workers should limit their contacts, particularly face to face meetings.”

“Never before has such drastic action been taken in the face of a public health threat. What we have outlined has not been decided upon lightly,” he said.  

Shops will remain open and public transport will continue to operate as normal.

“We have not witnessed a pandemic of this nature in living memory. This is uncharted territory,” Varadkar said today. 

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said the advisory group “recognise” that these measures will be a challenge for certain establishments such as restaurants. 

Some restaurants have already started putting social distancing in place for customers, spacing tables more than a metre apart.

Speaking today, Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “If you can work from home we’re recommending that you do so. It’s necessary for all of us to reduce our social contacts.”

Last week, the government announced further measures for sick pay benefits for Covid-19.

These include:

  • The current six-day waiting period for illness benefit will not apply to anyone who has Covid-19 or is in medically-required self isolation. 
  • Personal illness benefit will increase from €203 to €305 per week for a maximum of two weeks. 
  • Normal social insurance requirements for illness benefit will be changed and illness benefits will apply to the self-employed. 

Coveney said that if workplaces “can continue to operate their business” in a way that does not contribute to the spread of the transmission, they should do so.  

“We want to be able to move through this period [and] get back to a much more normal society, but these measures are necessary and we wouldn’t be introducing them if they weren’t,” he said. 

Outside of the workplace, people are advised to limit their social interactions as much as possible. 

With reporting by Sean Murray 

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