Delivered by Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach
Introduction and up-to-date Public Health Guidance
Once again, I want to begin today by thanking everyone for their hard work and co-operation up to now. It is exactly that shared commitment to protecting each other that has made our efforts to contain the virus so successful.
As you know, the government announced on Friday that the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business
has been re-scheduled, moving from 5 phases to 4, with many restrictions now being lifted in Phase 3 which starts next Monday, 29 June.
I will briefly recap some of the adjustments to the Roadmap announced last Friday.
From 29 June:
sporting activities will resume with limitations on the number of spectators permitted
places of worship, gyms, cinemas, leisure facilities, and, to many people’s relief, hairdressers and barber shops can resume business
mass gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 200 people outdoors will be permitted
creches and childcare facilities, summer camps, youth clubs and adult educational facilities can reopen
cafés and restaurants, as well as pubs and hotel bars operating as restaurants, may begin offering food on premises again
hotels, hostels, caravan parks and holiday parks can reopen
we continue to encourage everyone to work from home as much as possible
So, some people are asking why are we changing the Roadmap now.
You’ll remember, when we first published the Roadmap, the government said that it would continue to be reviewed and indeed, the National Public Health Emergency Team’s advice emphasised the fact that the schedule they had prepared was a living document.
As well as that, you know that the Roadmap is divided up into three-week intervals. The reason for this is that it takes time for the disease to incubate and then appear in the community. It means the public health experts want to assess the impact of changes in restrictions on the transmission of the disease.
Two weeks ago, based on everything they had seen so far, the NPHET said that they wanted to reschedule the phasing and that is what they did last week.
We know how important it has been to bring as much certainty as possible for everyone. Businesses and service providers want to make preparations. People want to know if they can make plans for the summer. So, Government approved the approach set out in the NPHET advice last Friday so everyone can make their plans.
But we are not there yet. We still have to see the full impact of the lifting of restrictions in Phase 2 – we will have that data later this week and Government will meet again to consider whether we move forward to Phase 3. We have heard news again this morning about how quickly this disease can resurge, so we need to constantly assess the impact of what we are seeing in the data here in Ireland.
That also serves to emphasise that everything we heard on Friday is very welcome news but it does not mean that the virus has gone away and these changes do not signal a return to life as we knew it. The issue with this disease is that it is highly infectious. And the second challenge is that you may not show symptoms to be transmitting it to others. Yes, for many people it is a mild illness, but as too many families out there know, for others it is not.
As the Taoiseach said on Friday, we will be living a different type of life. As Government steps back population-wide restrictions, we are asking you to “step up” for yourself, your family and your community. Now we are asking business owners and service providers to think about how they are protecting customers and clients. We are asking you to know how to assess the risk of a particular activity or event and make an informed decision as to whether it is safe to participate.
So, what do you need to know?
if I am going in somewhere, can social distancing be maintained and or are the physical set up or access arrangements going to assist in managing this if the premises gets busier
if it’s a premises you are going to spend some time in, are there good hygiene measures – can you access hand sanitiser or hand-washing easily and regularly?
how long are you going to be there?
should you wear a face covering if it is a service you need to use but it is going to be difficult to maintain social distancing?
can you limit the time in a particular venue or are there specific aspects of a venue that make it more risky. For example, a ventilated indoor space is safer than one which is not, an outdoor space is generally safer than an indoor space
The bottom line is, even if somewhere is open, but looks crowded and not well managed, you may need to make the decision not to enter or not to stay.
In general, from 29 June, we are still encouraging everyone to continue to work from home as much as possible.
The basic public health guidelines will become even more critical as more people are moving around.
wash your hands regularly and thoroughly – especially after you have been out and about or in and out of other people’s homes or businesses
continue to observe good cough and sneeze etiquette
continue to maintain social distancing – keep two metres apart from people when possible and avoid crowds
in situations where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, such as on public transport or in shops, you should wear a face mask or covering
we have to know the symptoms of COVID-19 and be watchful - if you think you may have the virus, self-isolate immediately and call your doctor
I want to stress again that the changes outlined do not come into force today - the purpose of announcing these measures last Friday was to allow the businesses and organisations impacted some time to prepare for reopening. For most, this will require putting in place many new protective and safety measures in order to comply with the relevant protocols and health guidance, and to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.
An estimated 410,000 employees are currently being supported by the Scheme having received a subsidy in their most recent pay period.
Today (22 June), Revenue has generated further payments to employers under the scheme of €18.6 million.
These payments will be in the bank accounts of the majority of the respective employers tomorrow (23 June).
The cumulative value of payments made to employers under the scheme is €1.6 billion (€1,633 million).
Business Supports Uptake
Since the onset of the pandemic, the government has introduced a raft of measures aimed at supporting business during the crisis.
The take up of these schemes continues to be strong. There are many supports available and the Trading Online Voucher Scheme and the Microfinance Ireland loan are particularly useful for small businesses.
To date a total of 2,777 applications have been approved by the Local Enterprise Offices for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme to a value of just under €6.6 million. The Local Enterprise Offices have received the equivalent of approximately 5 years’ worth of applications (5,622) since the onset of COVID-19.
Microfinance Ireland have approved 560 loan applications with a value of over €15.1 million. MFI lending has increased by 600% since COVID-19.
For more information on the different supports available for business click here.
A new initiative has been launched aimed at helping Irish Small and Medium Enterprise owners and managers across all sectors to prepare and implement a Return to Work Safely Plan for the reopening of their business.
The Initiative – ‘ReBound – Back to Business. Safely’ is being offered by Skillnet Ireland in partnership with Ibec, Chambers Ireland, the NSAI and the Small Firms Association.
ReBound was designed in recognition of the fact that every workplace will need to make changes as they return to work and adjust to the ‘new normal’. It will support SMEs to ensure they are well equipped to take on this challenge with a combination of online training and mentoring ensuring each business has a bespoke Return to Work Safely Plan.
The scheme is available to 3,000 Irish SMEs across the country. Links to where to register are available here.
Guidelines for Pubs
Last week Fáilte Ireland finalised Guidelines for the Reopening of Pubs.
The guidelines have been agreed to provide clarity to businesses and ensure that the concerns of the industry and of public health representatives are addressed ahead of the reopening of some pubs operating as restaurants on 29 June.
Seating times have been set at 105 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes between bookings to allow for adequate cleaning and to ensure customers leave and enter without mixing.
Businesses will be required to collect contact information of patrons for the purposes of contact tracing if required.
Where 2 metre physical distancing is not possible, businesses are now permitted to implement 1 metre physical distancing in controlled environments.
As we all know the public health guidance is that where it is possible to work from home we should continue to do so. It is important for people to remember that an employee who works from home may claim tax relief on expenses incurred once certain conditions are met.
That relief may arise in two ways:
an employer can choose to pay an employee a daily tax-free flat rate of up to €3.20 to cover certain costs incurred as a result of working from home
employees can claim for the amount of actual expenses incurred by completing an Income Tax return at the end of the year
You can find links to further information on this here.
As you know there was good news for athletes, sports fans and everyone who participates in sport last Friday also.
We know there are many individuals and families who are looking forward to getting their out their kit bags and getting back to their team training or gym, yoga or dancing activities.
It has been a challenging time for the National Sporting Bodies who want to support their sport, keep their participants, coaches, staff and volunteers safe.
The series provides a platform where health officials, healthcare workers and experts deliver clear and factual information on topical health issues.
In support of the national public health communications campaign, the first episode was dedicated to the topic of face coverings; how, when and where to use them.
In the coming weeks the podcast will continue to support messaging around COVID-19 and public health advice.
It is envisaged that the channel will be focused on a variety of health issues into the future, including vaccines, key health trends and new health policy.
If you want to know more about why we want people to wear face coverings, when you should wear them and how to put them on and take them off, you can listen to medical and nursing experts from the Department of Health on any podcast platform.
Videos showing how to use face coverings are also available on the Department of Health and HSE Twitter feeds.
€25 million extra COVID-19 support for Arts and Culture
€25 million in extra supports to help the Arts and Culture sector were announced last week. The sector has been badly affected by COVID-19. This additional funding was allocated to assist in the recovery of the institutions and support artists that have had to cancel gigs and performances.
It will include bursaries and commissions to artists and arts organisations, as well as resources for museums and culture workers as they prepare for the re-opening of society. €5 million of the fund will be available for other measures, including securing the future of key cultural and museum spaces and facilities throughout Ireland, and the production of high-quality digital art and online performances.
Throughout the lockdown many of us will have gained a new appreciation for the importance of arts and culture, as we turned to films, songs, books and more to entertain us and give us hope through those difficult days. This fund will support the sector in return as they face into challenging times still to come on the road to recovery.
Last week €400,000 in funding was announced for the Courage 2 Programme
produced by Other Voices in partnership with RTÉ and IMRO.
The original Courage Programme – announced in April and featuring live performances of Irish musicians– got a great reception reaching of over 2.7 million people.
The programme showcased not only the creative talent of Irish musicians but also the iconic national locations where they performed and, in addition to offering a source of hope and entertainment for us here in Ireland, it was seen on a global level.
Courage 2 begins on 23 June and will feature 2 live streamed performances a week held in some of our nation’s stunning heritage sites, including Kilruddery House, Kilkenny Castle, Glenveigh National Park and the Crawford Gallery in Cork. The programme will feature performances from musicians such as James Vincent McMorrow and Lankum.
Performances will be streamed live on Other Voices YouTube channels and social media platforms and RTÉ online at 8pm. The original Courage 1 series is currently being shown on RTÉ 2 Thursdays at 11.30pm.
Supporting Children campaign
Last week saw the launch of the Supporting Children campaign.
The campaign encourages everyone to be mindful of vulnerable children and young people in these challenging times.
There is a robust infrastructure of services providing assistance to children, young people and families in place throughout Ireland, overseen by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla and involving over 800 funded organisations. This system of supports has been mobilised during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure that vulnerable children and their families could still access the services they needed.
The Supporting Children portal on gov.ie is now live, providing access to those supports and services for children, young people and their families.
Anyone with a concern about a child’s safety or welfare should contact their local duty social work office using details on tusla.ie.
National Consultation with Young People on Health and Wellbeing during COVID-19
Last week a newly established Youth Advisory Group met for the first time with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to design a national consultation with young people on health and well-being as we learn to live with COVID-19.
Concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on young people have been increasing throughout the crisis with recent research, and findings from those in the youth sector, indicating that young people are one of the groups most impacted by the crisis and the related restrictions.
The work of the Youth Advisory Group will lead to a national online consultation with young people which will be hosted on spunout.ie
later this month. The consultation will be a chance for young people who want to share their experience of COVID-19 to have their voices heard. This in turn will inform the supports being offered to young people, with the findings being used to inform service design and delivery.
Members of the Youth Advisory Group come from across the country, range in age between 15 – 24 years and are nominated through a range of youth groups and organisations including Comhairle na nÓg, Foroige, Youth Work Ireland, Spunout.ie and the National Youth Council of Ireland.
Leaving Certificate – Calculation of Grades
The online application through which schools enter the relevant data on Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied estimated percentage marks and class rankings, will remain open until close of business today Monday 22 June.
The date was extended from Friday to facilitate a small number of schools to fully complete the process.
The Department of Education and Skills wishes to acknowledge the work of school principals and teachers to date in compiling and uploading the data.
On Friday the government agreed to make an Order to extend the emergency period during which rent increases and tenancy terminations (in all but limited and exceptional cases) are prohibited.
The emergency period will be extended to 20 July 2020. It had been due to end on 27 June. In the interests of public health, the government has decided to extend these protections.
Return to non COVID-19 Supports and Services
HSE is finalising plans to re-establish non COVID-19 Supports and Services. The HSE expects to provide an update in the coming days.
The safe restart of screening is a priority for the National Screening Service (NSS). The four screening programmes are now finalising their plans for a phased reintroduction of screening.
Screening restart plans are currently being aligned with the wider healthcare system. Screening restart dates are expected to be announced by end of June.
We are expecting to begin a phased reintroduction of NSS programmes by end of summer.
Screening invitations will be issued on a phased basis, according to clinical prioritisation.
Non-European Economic Area students based in Dublin
Today, the Department of Justice and Equality has announced a new online Registration Renewal System for non-EEA students based in Dublin.
This means students will no longer have to book appointments and attend the registration office in person and the service will be made available to all categories of non-national students residing in the Dublin area, who are eligible for renewal of their permission to reside in Ireland.
The new system will be kept under ongoing review, with the intention that the online service can be rolled out to other categories of applicants in the coming months.
Irish Troops returning from Lebanon
This morning, the first rotation of troops from the 115 Infantry Battalion returned from
service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The government would like to welcome home the troops and express its appreciation for the valuable contribution made by the 115 Infantry Battalion while serving with UNIFIL.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, this deployment was extended beyond the scheduled 6-month term which has been particularly challenging for Defence Forces personnel and their families.
Heritage Week Going Ahead
Also, I just want to highlight that like many of you, we are delighted that, despite COVID-19, Heritage Week will go ahead this year between 15 and 23 August.
Heritage Week 2020 will have a focus on developing projects to investigate our heritage. Local heritage groups, families and communities around the country are invited to take part by developing their own projects around the theme of heritage and education.