Delivered by Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach
Introduction and up-to-date Public Health Guidance
As you know, on Friday the government decided to proceed with Phase 1 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. The roadmap will see a gradual, stepwise easing of restrictions, each phase planned to last for three weeks. During that time, the behaviour of COVID-19 will be closely monitored. We will only move to Phase 2 if it is safe to do so.
Today we begin this process and first I want to take the time to emphasise the restrictions that remain in place and to remind you that it is still the case that we are being asked not to make unnecessary journeys.
We are still being asked to work from home if we can, many workplaces remain closed. The 5 kilometres limit applies for exercise, social visits and visiting public amenities.
We can now meet up with 3 other people, as long as we do so outdoors within 5 kilometres of our homes and ensure we remain at least 2 metres apart. Likewise, we can exercise in groups of 4, again ensuring we practice social distancing and remain within the 5 kilometres. Some sporting facilities and public amenities are reopening and if they are within our 5 kilometre radius we can begin using them again – details are all on gov.ie.
Now more than ever it is vital to practice the good hygiene measures I mention at each of these briefings.
wash hands regularly and thoroughly
use good cough and sneeze etiquette
observe social distancing measures
If you are sick you must stay home and self-isolate – and do it immediately, don’t put it off.
We are now also recommending that face coverings are worn on busy public transport and in enclosed indoor public areas like shops. Details on how to make and wear face coverings are on gov.ie.
We urge you not to criticise or judge people who are not wearing face coverings. There may be a number of reasons why they don’t. Face coverings are not suitable for everyone, including children under the age of 13.
The CMO put it well on Friday. The face covering is not some special shield. It is additional to the other more important measures mentioned. Face coverings, if not properly used, are not much use.
Finally, those over 70 or who have a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19 are advised to stay at home, apart from brief exercise within the 5 kilometre limit.
Please also remember that if you need assistance with any of this, particularly if you are advised to stay at home, help remains available through programmes such as community call – all details are on gov.ie
Some restrictions are being eased today:
Some retail outlets such as hardware stores and garden centres and shops selling and repairing electrical goods can open – see gov.ie
for the complete list.
Bear in mind though that you should only be visiting these outlets for essential supplies or repairs, we are not at a stage when we should be going to the shops to browse and social distancing will apply at these outlets.
Some more workplaces are also open, such as outdoor construction sites and farmers markets.
All workplaces opening in this phase should familiarise themselves with the Return to Work Protocol
to ensure they are aware of and in compliance with all of the measures required to open and conduct business safely.
Government made the decision to proceed on Friday based on the health advice.
Government also considered reports on the economic and social impact that the restrictions are having on our country.
As some businesses will be planning to reopen over the next number of weeks we would like to remind you of a number of resources available to help you to do so safely.
The Return to Work Protocol
published by Government is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace as the economy opens up in alignment with the Roadmap for Reopening society and business.
The protocol is to be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE.
These measures are to protect everyone – employers, staff, clients and customers.
We know many businesses and employers are already considering how to apply public health advice in their own areas and we are encouraging everyone to fully engage with these resources to help them get back to business safely.
The environment that we face is rapidly changing, and we need to be able to quickly respond to those changes. The protocol is to help businesses cope with the new way of working and it will be a living document. We will be looking for feedback on how it is working and whether changes need to be made to elements of it as the situation evolves.
You can read the protocol and details of all of the government supports available to businesses on gov.ie/business.
Employers and employees can also contact the Health and Safety authority helpline on 1890 289 389 or by email at email@example.com
Also, as businesses open up, owners and managers are also asked to be aware of the potential for issues to develop in the water and cooling systems of their buildings when buildings have been closed and/or under-utilised for a period of time.
On Friday, Government also agreed details of the new €250 million Restart Grant,
which will help businesses with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures.
The Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5 million and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30 June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of reopening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers.
The scheme will open on Friday 22 May through local authorities.
COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
Today, around 585,000 people who were unemployed last week will receive their weekly payment of €350 under the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme. This payment will be available in their nominated bank account or Post Office, tomorrow, Tuesday 19 May. The overall value of the weekly payment is in the region of €202 million.
Today, as we plan for the start of the first phase of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business,
a number of those who currently receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment income support, will be looking forward to returning to work. If you are one of these people, you should close your claim today as you return to work. If you are starting work later in the week, you should close your claim on the day you return to employment. To close your unemployment claim, you should log on to www.gov.ie, click on the link for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
and follow the instructions to close your claim.
Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme
Over 54,400 employers are now registered with Revenue for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
Over 467,600 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 18 May, Revenue has generated further payments to employers under the scheme of €15 million.
These payments will be in the bank accounts of the majority of the respective employers tomorrow 19 May.
The cumulative value of payments made to employers under the scheme is €977 million.
Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT)
The Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Testing (CVRT) network will reopen today for vehicles with a test due date prior to 28 March, before the 3-month extension to commercial vehicle certificates of roadworthiness came into effect.
The resumption of testing for vehicles with a test due date on or after 28 March 2020 is expected to follow over the coming weeks.
The recommencement of CVRT services will be subject to detailed measures being put in place by each individual CVRT test centre operator to mitigate against the spread of COVID19.
The Road Safety Authority will be communicating with each of the 150 CVRT centres.
If a CVRT testing centre cannot put the required measures in place, they should not resume services until they are assured that they can protect their staff and customers who come to the testing centre.
This had previously been extended to 21 May 2020. Property owners who have opted to make a payment by ADI do not need to advise Revenue or take any action.
The Community Call Fora, run by the local authorities, continue to provide help and support to those in need in communities around the country. Over the weekend, they received over 550 calls and made approximately 200 follow-up calls to people who have contacted them.
Nationally, since 31 March, the Community Call Fora have received over 37,000 calls and have made approximately 15,500 follow-up calls.
Remember, you can find your local Community Call helpline number on gov.ie.
You can also contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you are experiencing difficulties or just want someone to talk to.
LoveNature is a new online initiative by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to mark National Biodiversity Week
which was to take place from yesterday until Friday 22 May 2020.
Due to current restrictions in place across the country to combat the spread of COVID-19, the scheduled events have had to be postponed.
However, the #LoveNature campaign aims to mark the week by raising awareness of Ireland’s biodiversity and nature conservation by promoting public engagement through digital resources and content.
The online initiative will bring together experts in the field in the one place, including a series of practical advice for families and farmers to aid crucial pollination in their own gardens or on their land.
The #LoveNature campaign is very much a two-way initiative: members of the public are being asked to use the hashtag and send their nature drawings, photographs, paintings, poems to firstname.lastname@example.org
to be included in a video highlighting the nation’s love of our natural heritage.
The video will be released to coincide with the highlight of National Biodiversity Week: UN International Day for Biological Diversity on Friday 22 May.
Education and Childcare
In providing its advice to Government on proceeding to Phase 1 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business,
the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) acknowledged the particular impact that the current pandemic and consequent public health social distancing measures have had on children in our society over the last number of months.
The NPHET has committed to giving specific consideration to the needs of children and parents in the context of advising Government on options for the easing of restrictions, having regard to the public health risks for children and their families.
A key factor in supporting the phased reopening of our society is the ability to provide childcare which can fully observe the public health advice.
Amongst other roles, the Group will be developing guidelines to support providers, their staff, parents and children to return to familiar, albeit different, environments, in a phased manner over the coming months.
Various childcare specific guidance from Public Health experts will be issued to services by the department over the coming weeks. The department is also planning an opportunity for public consultation.
The Roadmap sets out that schools will be reopening in September. In the interim period, there is provision for teachers to access school buildings to support remote learning. The Department of Education and Skills is working to prepare a report for Government on the planned reopening of schools.
Sport and Exercise
While the government still advises people to stay at home as much as possible to minimise the spread of COVID-19, it is permitted to exercise in the outdoors within 5 kilometres of your home. It is critical in this that you continue to observe social distancing while exercising.
Outdoor spaces and tourism sites including car parks, beaches and trails will be opened where people can move around freely and where social distancing can be maintained.
If you are visiting a public recreation amenity, refrain from long stays at the site and do not have picnics. Please do your exercise and then go home.
An expert group
has been established by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide guidance to Ireland’s sporting bodies to prepare for the phased return to sporting activity in line with the government's Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.
The Expert Group will assess the consistency of the various protocols being prepared and includes medical experts from the Sport Ireland Institute and the sports sector, as well as officials from both the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Sport Ireland. The Group also contains a specific representation for disability sport.
The National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of a number of sports have developed protocols to allow them to be practiced safely in compliance with the prevailing public health advice under Phase One, which have been disseminated to their clubs and members.
Ireland Performs, the Culture Ireland initiative in partnership with Facebook Ireland has now been extended to Sunday 24 May.
Since it commenced on Monday 13 April, with daily performances rolled out on a weekly basis, 100 performances have been seen by over 500,000 people worldwide.
A further €20,000 in funding has also been allocated to the initiative by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to support the further performances which will include music, spoken word, theatre and visual arts.
There has been strong engagement from around the world and positive media coverage for the diverse offer from all around Ireland. The events are being promoted by Irish Cultural Centres worldwide and the Embassy network.
This includes people in Ireland on short stay visas and those whose permissions have already been extended by the previous notice issued on 20 March 2020.
The public and particularly those familiar with CPR play a key role in our communities in responding to people who collapse in public spaces, and in many instances save lives.
A person whose heart has stopped is unlikely to survive if CPR is not administered before the arrival of the ambulance service.
here is now of course an added element of risk involved in administering CPR given that the person who has collapsed may have COVID-19.
It is a personal choice if you decide to give CPR, but given the situation with COVID-19, we wanted to give you the most up to date advice to minimise risk and improve safety for all involved:
at all times keep your hands away from your face
if a person has collapsed in a public space, do look for signs of breathing and signs of life
don’t listen or feel for breathing by placing your ear and cheek close to the person’s mouth
dial 112 or 999 and ask for an ambulance. If COVID-19 is suspected, tell them when you call
use an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) as soon as possible. This significantly increases the person’s chances of survival. Place the AED pads on the person’s chest and apply a shock, if prompted by the AED. This is a safe procedure and should be attempted by a first responder
perform chest compressions only. Do not give mouth to mouth rescue breaths. If there is a perceived risk of infection, you should place a cloth or face covering over the person’s mouth and nose and attempt compression only CPR and early defibrillation until help arrives
afterwards, clean your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Clean and disinfect the AED if used
More information is available from the HSE website: www.hse.ie.
As we ease restrictions from today, it is really important that we are disciplined in keeping to the measures specified.
Our ability to move on through the phases will depend on sticking to them.
Indeed, as I said last week, many of these habits will have to become the norm for us for some time to come.