Delivered by Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach
Introduction and up-to-date Public Health Guidance
As we progress through our first week in Phase One of our Roadmap for Reopening,
I want to once again take a moment to clarify the restrictions and the guidance in place at this time.
The most important thing to remember is that we are still being asked not to make unnecessary journeys. That means you only move around to do something you need to do.
Everyone who can work from home should continue to do so. While we were all happy to see some groups return to work this week, it’s important to bear in mind that many workplaces remain closed. Some more retail outlets have reopened, however, at this stage you should only shop for what you need, - as I said on Monday, now is not the time to visit the shops to browse.
The exception to the “essential” journey is to take exercise and that is why many outdoor gardens, parks and other facilities which were closed have reopened. Part of the easing also means we can now meet up in small groups of no more than 4 people in outdoor settings. With the good weather, understandably people are taking advantage of this relaxation of the rules.
Nevertheless, we can’t relax. We have to remember that.
This is only phase 1 so there are a few things I want to emphasise:
if you are meeting others, it is a limit of 4 people in total, regardless of household
the 5 kilometres rule still applies if you are meeting up with people, as it does to exercise and journeys to public amenities
social distancing rules – staying at least 2 metres apart from each other – must be followed
We have a responsibility to one another not to make unnecessary visits to the homes of our families or friends just yet, or have play dates or barbeques. We need to encourage and help our children and young people to abide by the rules too – they cannot congregate in large groups.
I know the restrictions have been in place for what seems like a long time now and the fine weather makes it even more difficult. And I know, yet again, we are asking you to be patient and disciplined. But it is the only way we can continue to keep the behaviour of the virus under control and move through the phases of the reopening plan. Many people who are sticking to the rules are rightly worried that if we get this wrong, it will set us back. And they are right to be worried. I think everyone knows at this stage that slow and steady will win this race so we just have to #holdfirm.
I also wanted to mention that many parks and amenities are offering specific visiting hours for older people or people required to cocoon. We appreciate that many people have followed the cocooning advice and are delighted to have an opportunity to get to enjoy the weather too. In many parks there are priority hours for such groups – many between 1.30pm and 3.30pm but it will be clearly signposted. We would ask that other park users respect the added risks that these groups are facing and time their own visits accordingly.
For people who live within 5 kilometres of the water, the form of exercise they chose may involve swimming or other water-based activities. Again, we have had a lot of people congregating in certain areas. To be fair to everyone, you should try to limit your time in these locations so that there can be a good throughput of all of the people who want to enjoy the same amenity – do your exercise and go. If you can, you should go somewhere less busy to avoid a situation where you cannot social distance.
Lots of people are taking the opportunity to swim given the good weather, including those who are not necessarily experienced swimmers. People using the water should always be aware of the advice from Water Safety Ireland,
who are warning of the danger of cold water for swimmers. For more information and safety advice visit Water Safety Ireland.
As I keep saying, the habits we need to hold on to are:
maintain social distancing at all times, even when meeting with friends or loved ones
keep hands clean - wash them regularly and be mindful to avoid unnecessary touching of your face
use good cough and sneeze etiquette
As we said on Monday, face coverings are recommended in some settings where social distancing cannot be guaranteed such as public transport and in shops. You’ll find more details here.
I know everyone is anxious to support businesses in getting back to work. Government supports are in place to help sustain and stabilise businesses so that they can reopen when the Roadmap allows.
We have had concerns expressed to us that some businesses are already reopening which are not in alignment with the Roadmap.
We understand the temptation to do so for retailers and for customers. But we have to be really clear.
Even if you are applying the Return to Work Protocol
– you cannot open unless you are specifically allowed to do so under the Roadmap. This is phase 1, a small step.
The concern is not only with the safety of particular settings, it is also about the volume of people moving around – employers, staff and customers.
Those businesses who claim they can open safely or see a “loophole” in the Health regulations are not respecting the spirit of the approach that is set out in the Roadmap. They risk slowing down progress for everyone else. So, I’m appealing to businesses to take the responsible approach and if we get this right we will have further progress in another couple of weeks. Please hold firm and stay the course.
We are encouraging businesses who can do so safely to use on-line, click and collect and delivery arrangements to allow them to meet their customer’s needs. There are supports in place to help those businesses who might need support to get on-line. All of that information is available on gov.ie/business.
Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme
Over 55,500 employers are now registered with Revenue for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
Over 473,500 employees have now received at least one payment under scheme. This does not include additional employees who may receive a subsidy as a result of payments generated today.
Today 21 May, Revenue has generated further payments to employers under the scheme of €32.5 million.
These payments will be in the bank accounts of the majority of the respective employers tomorrow 22 May.
The cumulative value of payments made to employers under the scheme is €1,048 million.
Yesterday the formation of a special Tourism Taskforce
dedicated to the economic recovery of the tourism and hospitality sector was announced.
Tourism and hospitality are our largest indigenous employer and they are essential to the economic and social health of the nation. The impact of the coronavirus emergency on this sector has been considerable.
This taskforce will work to deal with the challenges ahead to ensure that this sector can emerge from the pandemic ready to resume business.
The Community Call Fora, run by the local authorities, continue to provide help and support to those in need in communities around the country.
Yesterday, they received over 900 calls and made approximately 450 follow-up calls to people who have contacted them.
Nationally, since 31 March, the Community Call Fora have received almost 40,000 calls and have made approximately 16,700 follow-up calls.
Remember, you can find your local Community Call helpline number here.
You can also contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you are experiencing difficulties or just want someone to talk to.
Stability Fund Extended
Yesterday a decision was taken to extend the closing date for the COVID-19 Stability Fund to 8pm today, 21 May.
The €35 million fund has been established to provide a level of support to qualifying community and voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises who are most in need and have seen their trading and/or fundraising income drop significantly during the crisis.
I would encourage all organisations that need assistance, to get their applications in before the portal closes this evening.
More details on the application process can be found here.
Free Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine is available free of charge every year to those who are over 70.
The Department of Health has announced this week that the vaccine will now be available for free to children and those in groups defined by the HSE as ‘at-risk’ for this year’s flu season.
This is to help to mitigate a situation where COVID-19 re-surges during this year’s flu season, and the challenge this would present to the delivery of healthcare services.
Those aged 2 to 12 and those defined as ‘at risk’ between ages 6 months and 69 inclusive will now be eligible for the vaccine free of charge. Further details will be available as flu season approaches later in the year.
EU Youth Ministers Conference
Yesterday the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs had discussions with EU Youth Ministers on the impact of COVID-19 on the youth sector.
The aim of the conference was to discuss what measures can be taken to support the youth sector and to examine the ways in which young people have been particularly affected by COVID-19.
Aside from the obvious impact the crisis has taken on educational institutions, young people are also suffering in terms of mobility, activities, access to services and employment, as well as overall well-being and mental health.
Minister Zappone said that Ireland intends to continue funding voluntary youth organisations through this crisis period stating that youth work is a vital support service in these challenging circumstances.
Many youth organisations have adopted innovative and technology-based solutions to pursue their work and offer services remotely.
The Department of Health and the HSE have asked us to remind you that GP and Emergency Department services are safe, open and available.
The health service has put every precaution in place to protect people who need to attend the services for non COVID-19 illness.
So, if you need to see your GP you can phone them to arrange an appointment as normal.
We also want to encourage people not to ignore serious signs and symptoms and delay presenting to Emergency Departments.
While it is clear that no non-essential travel should be undertaken, we do wish to advise that the Passport Service continues to process emergency passports for our citizens at home and abroad in cases of emergency.
A limited service is in operation and many staff have been reassigned to other essential public services.
Applicants can still apply for passports, including both passport renewals and first-time passports, using the Passport Online service, but the usual turnaround times cannot be guaranteed due to the limited services available at present.
Passport applications made via the postal channel require extensive handling and processing by passport staff and as these staff are currently reassigned to other critical services, this application channel is not available at present.
The Passport Office WebChat service and their dedicated travel emergency mailbox continue to operate and are the best ways to contact the Passport Office in the current circumstances.
We would like to highlight that public health information, guidelines and advice are available in multiple languages, including French, Polish and Romanian.
These information sources include advice in over 20 languages on cocooning, hand hygiene and how to stay safe during the COVID-19 crisis.
You can find details of these resources on the HSE website, hse.ie.
The national leaflet on the Community Call fora
– including information on what the fora do and contact details for the forum in each local authority area – is also available in a number of different languages (such as Latvian and Portuguese) and accessible formats (Irish Sign Language and Large Print version).
The National Council for the Blind Ireland have distributed Braille and audio versions of the leaflet, which are also available.
An Garda Síochána this week confirmed that there has been a high level of compliance with restrictions with the vast majority of people adhering with public health guidelines.
Since 8 April new COVID-19 policing regulations have had to be invoked 241 times out of hundreds of thousands of interactions. The emphasis continues to be placed on policing by consent with Gardaí in the community aiming to engage, educate and encourage before applying enforcement, which is used as a last resort.
As we move further into phase one, and throughout every stage of the Roadmap, we need this level of compliance to continue. We have worked hard and done well so far and everyone needs to be willing to continue to work together to keep the progress going. The Gardaí are there to support us in doing that but ultimately it is up to every individual to take responsibility for their own role.
Tidy Towns Funding
I want to confirm as per yesterday’s announcement that, although this year’s Tidy Towns competition had to be cancelled for public health reasons, the funding allocated to support Tidy Towns groups throughout the country this year will remain available to them.
€1.4 million was allocated this year to assist Tidy Towns groups in their preparations for the competition and any unspent funds can still be used to assist with activities they might undertake as restrictions are eased, or in preparing for the 2021 competition. We know that for many communities Tidy Towns is an annual highlight and many people will be looking forward to working to beautify their towns again!