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Tighter rules will be a test - but we will win, says Leo

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 
Photo: Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Steve Humphreys

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Steve Humphreys

Gatherings of more than four people are being restricted and all theatres, gyms, bookies, hairdressers, casinos and bingo halls will be shut as part of a raft of tough new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The actions form part of the Government's ongoing plan to limit the impact of the deadly virus on workers and employers with more stringent social distancing rules.

The measures in brief include:

• Physical distancing restrictions remain in place;

• People should stay home as much as possible, work from home if they can, and only leave home to go to work if there is no alternative;

• Only go to the shops for essential supplies, for medical or dental appointments, to care for others or to take physical exercise;

• No unnecessary travel should take place within the country or overseas;

• Non-essential businesses must close but factories and construction sites can continue to operate with precautions.

Meanwhile, the Government also announced higher payments for workers who lose their jobs and a wage subsidy scheme to help employers retain staff.

Last week, it introduced the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment which was initially set at €203 a week. The Cabinet agreed yesterday to increase this to €350 a week.

The Government will also pay 70pc of an employee's wages up to €410 a week for businesses that are willing to meet the remainder of their staff's weekly payment.

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Garda Caoileann Fitzmaurice and Garda Gareth McElhone on patrol on a very quiet O’Connell Bridge in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Garda Caoileann Fitzmaurice and Garda Gareth McElhone on patrol on a very quiet O’Connell Bridge in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Garda Caoileann Fitzmaurice and Garda Gareth McElhone on patrol on a very quiet O’Connell Bridge in Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Meanwhile, creches will get a major government bailout in return for ditching fees for parents who are worried about keeping their places.

The new scheme will ensure every childcare worker who is out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic will receive €350 a week for the next 12 weeks if they are retained by their employer.

Childcare providers will also receive an additional payment from the State which will be based on 15pc of their staff costs. This payment will go toward the cost of a business's rent, overheads and insurance for the next three months.

In return for these payments, creche owners will be asked to sign a "Covid emergency agreement" asking them not to charge parents while also ensuring their child's place is secured until social distancing rules come to an end.

"These are unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency," said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He thanked the public for listening to the advice on physical distancing and handwashing so far, adding "it's too early to know for sure but we do believe it's making a difference".

However, he warned "we need to do more" and asked people "to stay at home if at all possible".

He said all existing coronavirus measures, including the closure of schools and universities, will be extended until Sunday, April 19.

Mr Varadkar said social gatherings outdoors are to involve no more than four people unless they are from the same household.

There will be an increased presence of park rangers and gardai in parks and public places to ensure physical distancing is being observed.

"We can't stop the virus but working together we can slow it in its tracks and push it back."

Mr Varadkar said that Ireland recently commemorated the centenary of the 1916 Rising and the men and women who won Ireland's independence.

"I never believed we would be called upon to match their courage or example but today we are. Working together as a country we will come through this emergency. We'll be tested but we will succeed," he said.

"Our greatest generation was not in the past... better times are yet to come."

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said it is a "crisis unlike any other in our lifetime" and it has placed otherwise viable businesses in jeopardy.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty confirmed the increased Covid-19 payments will be made from Friday.

There will also be enhanced protections for people facing difficulties with their mortgages, rent or utility bills.

Mr Donohoe estimated that the measures will cost €3.7bn for a 12-week period but this will vary depending on the duration of the crisis.

"We must act now to avoid an even greater economic challenge in the future," he said.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys said she has met the major supermarkets and had discussions about their supply chains. She said they "continue to assure me we have a strong pipeline of products for our citizens".

Afraid

The early days of the crisis were marked by panic-buying despite repeated reassurance from the Government and retailers that stock-piling was not necessary.

Mr Varadkar was asked what he would say to people who are afraid.

He replied: "I think we're all a little bit afraid.

"It's perfectly natural and normal to be a little bit afraid. We can all see today what's happening in Italy - only two or three hours' flight from here and that frightens us all."