Cabinet to discuss plans to broaden access to support payments for firms hit by Covid


The Cabinet will on Tuesday morning discuss plans to broaden access to support payments for firms whose business has been damaged by public health measures but remain open.

Sources said that under the plans hospitality and entertainment companies will effectively get the same supports they did when fully closed even though they will be operating, albeit with reduced turnover.

It is understood an option under consideration would see firms permitted to earn up to 40 per cent of their pre-pandemic turnover without losing access to subsidies, up from the current limit of 25 per cent.

They will be strongly encouraged to keep staff on the payroll. Business groups had sought the removal of caps on payments and increases in the rate of 2019 turnover used when determining what subsidy they could receive.

The move follows the introduction of a suite of new restrictions, including an 8pm closing time for businesses in the hospitality sector, from Monday night.

For any indoor events taking place earlier in the day, attendance has to be capped at 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is lower.

Outdoor events will be limited to 50 per cent of venue capacity or 5,000 people, whichever is lower. This means early closing times for all hospitality, live events, cinemas and theatres.

Religious events such as Midnight Mass are exempt from the 8pm closure rule.

Hotel bars and restaurants can stay open after 8pm but only for overnight guests.

The restrictions, which came into force on Monday, are due to continue until January 30th, but there will be a review on January 11th.

Modelling from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) suggested there could be between 8,000 and 20,000 new cases of coronavirus a day, depending on the level of social mixing over Christmas.

An optimistic model suggested that Covid-19 hospital numbers could peak at between 650 and 1,000 people in early January with between 150 and 250 people requiring critical care. Under a pessimistic scenario, more than 2,000 people could be hospitalised, including more than 200 people in hospital intensive care units (ICUs).

Rising infections

The first signs of the impact of the Omicron variant have emerged with infection rising rapidly among younger people in the last week, one of the State’s top public health officials has said.

Prof Philip Nolan, who chairs the epidemiological modelling group advising Nphet, said figures from the past seven days – and more specifically the weekend – were the “first real sign of the impact of Omicron”.

Incidence in those aged 19-34 has increased by between 50 and 70 per cent in the course of the last seven days, he said, “increasing sharply over the weekend [while] test positivity in this age group exceeds 20 per cent”.

Prof Nolan said this is to some degree offset by booster vaccination reducing incidence in those aged 65 and older, but is nonetheless a “signal of the surge of disease to come, which is likely to be concentrated in younger adults in the first instance”. Incidence in Dublin is also growing more rapidly than in the rest of the country, with Omicron again suspected as driving the growth.

On Monday evening, State chief medical officer Tony Holohan noted research that half the people with symptoms of coronavirus are not self-isolating, which he called “the single most important piece of basic public health advice”.

His comments came as the State prepares for a new phase in the pandemic, prompted by the rapid spread of the variant, which is significantly more transmissible than previous strains.

Boosters

Elsewhere, it is understood booster vaccines will not be given to the under-40s until after Christmas with the extended programme facing complications due to multiple rollouts to three groups.

Boosters for people in their 30s are due to be administered next month at the same time that non-priority children aged between five and 11 are vaccinated with first doses and those aged between 16 and 29 years, who received the single-dose Janssen vaccine, get their booster jabs.

This will put the vaccination programme under pressure in January, managing the mass rollout of first-dose vaccines to children alongside the mass rollout of boosters for two large groups.

At a meeting with the live events sector organised by Minister for Culture Catherine Martin on Monday, Dr Holohan warned that the situation is likely to get worse in January and it promises to be a difficult month for the health sector and “societally”.

Some 4,799 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Monday, with 467 people in hospital and 104 needing intensive care.



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