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St Patrick’s Day parades cancelled, sick pay increase and €400m for HSE – breakdown of Government’s coronavirus action plan

From The Irish Independent.

The Government has outlined the actions it intends to carry out in response to the coronavirus outbreak following a cabinet committee today.

More than €400 million euro has been set aside for the HSE to carry out a series of actions that include freeing up space and increasing capacity in hospitals, and developing community-based Covid-19 home testing.

A sum of €2.4 billion has been allocated for income support, which involves plans to waive the requirement for six waiting days for sick pay, and increase the personal rate of Illness Benefit from €203 per week to €305 per week for a maximum period of two weeks.

The plans come following a decision from the committee to cancel the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

It came shortly after Cork was the first Irish city to cancel its St Patrick’s Day parade because of coronavirus fears.

The main actions include:

  • The main objective in the current phase is to limit and slow down the spread of the virus, to keep the number of affected people to a minimum and reduce peak pressure on the health service;
  • The public health advice for the containment phase of the response was reaffirmed;
  • Ireland remains in the Containment Phase and all necessary measures, based on public health advice, should continue to be implemented;
  • Ireland will move towards Delay and Mitigation Phases over the coming weeks and months, with our response calibrated in accordance with public health advice;
  • A package of reforms was agreed for sick pay, illness benefit and supplementary benefit that is designed to ensure that employees and the self-employed can abide by medical advice to self-isolate where appropriate, while having their income protected to a far greater degree than under the current social welfare system. This is estimated to cost up to €2.4 billion;
  • An initial package for business including €200 million in liquidity funding;
  • The HSE is scaling up its actions to deal with a population impact over the coming months which could produce service demand beyond anything previously experienced. The estimated cost is in the region of €435 million in 2020.

The HSE will undertake a series of actions at a cost of €435 million, including:

  • Strengthening public health capacity for contact tracing and response;
  • Freeing up as much space as possible in hospitals, and in particular ensuring maximum capacity in intensive care and high-dependency units;
  • Developing and scaling community-based responses, such as home testing, remote management of mild to moderately ill patients at home and the provision of dedicated Covid-19 services outside hospitals;
  • Continuing to build and galvanise community awareness and preventative actions;
  • Increasing capacity in the health service, through increased staffing, overtime and redeployment;
  • The opening of additional acute and critical care capacity and the restriction of elective capacity;
  • Increasing the capacity of the National Ambulance Service;
  • Centralised procurement of additional essential equipment, such as Personal Protective Equipment, ventilation equipment, dialysis equipment, portable radiography equipment and additional fleet for community care;
  • Greater use of technology and telephone support.

€2.4 billion has been devised for income support. The main elements are:

  • Waiving the requirement for six waiting days for sick pay in respect of medically certified cases of self-isolation in accordance with public health guidelines;
  • The removal of the means test requirement for Supplementary Welfare Allowance in respect of medically certified cases of self-isolation;
  • To contain the transmission of Covid-19, the personal rate of Illness Benefit will be increased from €203 per week to €305 per week for a maximum period of two weeks of medically certified self-isolation, or for the duration of a person’s medically-certified absence from work due to Covid-19 diagnoses;
  • Self-employed people will be entitled to receive either illness benefit or non-means tested supplementary welfare allowance.

The Health and Social Welfare actions agreed today represent a significant protection for workers and businesses and represent a total stimulus to the economy estimated at €3 billion.

Other actions to help reduce the wider economic impact include:

  • The provision of a €200 million liquidity support fund for impacted firms;
  • The existing systematic short-time working scheme is available for employees who may be placed on reduced working arrangements;
  • A group will be established involving union and employer representatives, as well as relevant Government Departments and agencies to monitor labour market developments and to lead a joint national communications effort focused on employers and employees (including vulnerable workers, migrant workers and undocumented workers);
  • Government Ministers will also meet the banks and other important economic actors to ensure there is a joined-up national effort to mitigate the adverse economic impact of the virus.

The Government has decided that St Patrick’s Day parades should not proceed based on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

The Taoiseach said other events and mass gatherings remain under review and any response will be guided by the NPHET, which meets again tomorrow.