The Government has announced Level 5 restrictions across the State for six weeks from Wednesday night/ Thursday morning at midnight until December 1st in a bid to curtail the spread of Covid-19. The Taoiseach said the Government intends that the country will go into Level 3 when the new period of restrictions expires.
As part of the restrictions the public will be asked to stay within 5km of their home and there will be penalties for breaches. There are some exceptions such as medical reasons and essential work.
However it is a soft version of Level 5 with schools and creches to remain open, non-contact training for children in pods of up to 15 and elite level sport including inter-county Gaelic games behind closed doors as well as weddings for up to 25 guests.
Mr Martin announced a social bubble measure would allow people parenting alone or living alone to pair with one other household.
The Cabinet also decided that people will be allowed to meet outdoors with one other household. Under the original Level 5 plan no social or family gatherings should take place in other settings. The construction and manufacturing sectors will be allowed to continue to operate under the measures.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said if people “pulled together over the next six weeks we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.”
If we all pull together, and follow the spirit of these new rules, it [CHRISTMAS]will be a very special time, and give us all some respite from the hardship of the last seven months.”
“Our journey through the coming weeks and months will not be easy, but our future is in our hands. It isn’t easy, but we must each dig deep within ourselves. We must persevere and we must be resilient.”
A key factor in the Government decision was that the Nphet letter indicated that a three week lockdown would not control the virus for long, but that the virus would largely be supressed for the month of December following a six week lockdown.
The Government considered proposals to lift restrictions county by county depending on the performance of the virus. Under Level 5 no visitors to private homes are permitted. Bars, cafes, restaurants and wet pubs can only offer takeaway or delivery. Only essential retail outlets are allowed to stay open. All other retail and personal services will close.
Asked if he could guarantee that schools would be kept open, Mr Martin said that “nobody can guarantee anything in life… but we will do everything we possibly can.” He said that the advice from Nphet was that schools are seeing very low transmission rates and that they are “safe places”. However teachers’ unions have expressed concern over the Government’s decision to keep schools open.
Senior Government sources said the decision to recommend such strict measures was “very depressing” but significant interventions were needed if the public were to return to safe behaviours.
A six week period of Level 5 restrictions will cost the Exchequer in the region of €1.5 billion, and cost around 150,000 jobs, the Tánaiste said. Due to the higher level of restrictions, the Cabinet has decided to introduce a €350 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), for those who had been earning more than €400 per week. This is a new band is being introduced, rather than the blanket payment being reintroduced. Existing PUP recipients who earned more than €400 are to have their rates automatically increased to €350.
The Government has also agreed to overhaul the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme. Under the scheme employers impacted by Covid-19 whose turnover has fallen by more than 30 per cent get a flat-rate subsidy based on the number of qualifying employees on the payroll.
The scheme will be expanded from three bands to five bands in order to help businesses retain as many staff as possible in light of tightened restrictions.
Under the existing scheme there are three weekly payment bands benefiting just below 350,000 employees as follows: € 0 for those earning less than €151, a €151 payment for those earning between €151 to €203 and €203 For those earning €203 to €1,462.
Under the new scheme there will be five bands the highest of which will see employers paid €350 for those earning between €400 to €1462. There will be a €300 payment for those earning between €300 to €400. There will be a €250 payment for those earning between €203 and €300. There will be a €203 payment for those earning between €151 to €203. This revised scheme will run to end January 2021,
The Government is also to introduce disability day care and addiction services supports, and a mental health package will be introduced.
Responding to the announcement, Retail Ireland said he move was a serious blow to the many “non-essential” retailers that would have to close. It said many of these businesses were relying on the run up to Christmas to make up for the significant losses incurred earlier in the year and there is very real concern that many vulnerable retail businesses will not survive Covid. The group called for a clear and comprehensive strategy for the unwinding of these restrictions.