Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government will wait on making any decision on cutting the Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme until it is discussed at a Cabinet subcommittee meeting on Monday.
Mr Martin’s comments come amid growing concerns about a new Covid-19 wave as case numbers and hospitalisations continue to rise.
Mr Martin said the Government had been determined throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to keep the economy intact and ready to reopen and such preparations had proven successful in terms of the way the economy bounced back after lockdown earlier this year.
Earlier this week on Tuesday, Mr Martin told Dáil Éireann that there were no plans to reopen the PUP or to delay planned cuts to the payment which would see those receiving €300 a week have their payment cut to €250 and those on €250 see their payments cut to €203.
But speaking on Saturday, Mr Martin was more circumspect and said the issue would be considered on Monday in the wake of growing Covid 19 numbers and the introduction of restrictions on nightclubs and bars.
He said the issue of proceeding with the cuts to the PUP would be considered at an Economic Recovery Cabinet Subcommittee meeting on Monday as the government was conscious of the impact the latest restrictions were having particularly on the entertainment and hospitality sectors.
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“We have an Economic Recovery Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Monday … Yes, will be giving that consideration and also in terms of the entertainment sector … We have got to explore how we can continue to support sectors that are undoubted suffering as a result of the pandemic.”
According to the most recent figures from the Department of Social Protection from November 4th, the number of people receiving PUP payments had fallen to just under 78,000 with the payments for that week totalling €20.7 million to bring the total amount paid in PUP to €8.9 billion.
Asked about reports that some nightclubs were opening as early as 6pm as a means of compensating for loss of business resulting from the 12 midnight closing restriction imposed by the Government, Mr Martin declined to comment specifically on the nightclub sector.
“I’m not going to go specifically on any one particular sector or group. There’s a framework in place but it is very important that people reassess events and so forth and reduce congregation and socialisation where possible,” he said.
Mr Martin also refused to be drawn on whether Ireland will introduce a curfew like some other European countries have done while he was also keen to stress that Ireland found itself in a different situation to that when lockdowns were introduced earlier this year amid rising Covid-19 numbers.
“I think again, because we are in a different wave of this pandemic, we’ve got to look at what are the appropriate and effective measures to take – already in terms of the return to work, we think that will have impact,” he told reporters.
Working from home
Mr Martin said he was confident from speaking with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), who had received research from the Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in the UK that working from home can impact on Covid-19 numbers while restricting close household contacts for five days should also help.
Asked if he feared Ireland might be forced into a Christmas lockdown to try and keep Covid-19 numbers down, Mr Martin again struck a cautious note saying the government approach was “not about any one particular time of the year” but dealing with each wave of the disease at it happens.
“We’ve got to look at the overall picture and the overall objectives about managing a pandemic and they have to do with mortality, keeping deaths down, reducing severe illness, and preventing long term impacts like long Covid and that means reducing case numbers – that’s the objective.
“And if there was a wave in January or February we’ll equally have to respond so that’s the overall frame there. We’ve got to take it step by step … and we will take the appropriate measures – public health is the ultimate metric by which we will take decisions protecting people’s lives.”