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Leo signs up for duty as Coveney warns of weeks more cocooning

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced he has re-registered as a doctor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced he has re-registered as a doctor

REUTERS

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced he has re-registered as a doctor

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has warned that he expects people will have to "cocoon" in their homes for weeks to come as part of efforts to fight the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The Tanaiste said there is still expected to be a dramatic surge of people falling ill and the health service is "as ready as we can be for that".

However, he added that the "most powerful tool we have against this virus" is how communities respond and practise handwashing and social distancing.

Criticism

It comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that he has re-registered as a doctor to help with the efforts to tackle coronavirus on the ground.

Elsewhere, Fianna Fail has joined those criticising the denial of the emergency Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment to people aged over 66 who lost their jobs due to the crisis.

Mr Coveney said he expects vulnerable people will have to cocoon in their homes beyond the originally announced date of April 12.

He said the virus is still spreading and there are more people being hospitalised, entering ICU and dying. Mr Coveney told Bere Island Community Radio it is a "tragedy that we have to try and manage", and he repeated the advice on social distancing and hand washing.

He added that the Government is asking people "to effectively accept that they will be cocooned in their own homes for a few more weeks yet".

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach confirmed that he rejoined the Medical Register last month.

"He has offered his services to the HSE for one session a week in areas that are within his scope of practice," the spokesman said.

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Gardai stop drivers at a Covid-19 checkpoint on the North Strand

Gardai stop drivers at a Covid-19 checkpoint on the North Strand

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Gardai stop drivers at a Covid-19 checkpoint on the North Strand

"Many of his family and friends are working in the health service. He wanted to help out even in a small way."

Both of Mr Varadkar's sisters work as healthcare professionals and the Taoiseach's partner Matt Barrett is a cardiologist.

Separately, Fianna Fail has hit out at the denial of the €350-a-week Covid-19 unemployment payment to people aged over 66.

Mr Varadkar last week poured cold water on demands that people over 66 who lose jobs should be included in the payment.

He said the point of the payment was to help toward the cost of bills, not to ensure everyone had the same income as before. Mr Varadkar said those who are over 66 should be in receipt of the State pension.

However, the pension is just €250-a-week and Opposition politicians have argued that older people who work into their late 60s do so because they need the additional income to meet household spending.

Independent TD Denis Naughten was the first to raise the issue, saying the situation is "totally unacceptable".

Now Fianna Fail has weighed in, calling for the scheme to be extended to the over-66s.

Its Social Protection spokesman Willie O'Dea last night said the situation is "blatantly discriminatory".

He warned that equality legislation prohibits discriminating against people on the grounds of age and the Government may find itself with an "unexpected bill to pay out" if anyone challenges the decision.

He said the exclusion affects a small cohort of people but it has a harsh effect on those individuals and he has come across cases of "real hardship".

Mr O'Dea said the cost would be a "drop in the ocean" in terms of the welfare supports to help those whose livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19.

He pointed out that other people in receipt of benefits, like the working family payment, keep that and still get the Covid-19 payment.

Subsidy

The Department of Social Protection last night indicated that there has been no shift in its position on the matter.

It said that people over 66 who get the State pension are eligible for the separate Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme.

This allows employers to pay their employees during the pandemic while being refunded up to 70pc of an employee's wages up to a level of €410.

However, not all businesses can take part.

The spokesperson said that pensioners also have automatic access to a range of other income supports not available to unemployed people.