By Michelle Crean

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has just announced increased measures to fight spread of COVID-19 including a National COVID-19 Income Support Scheme.

During a live televised broadcast he said that schools, universities and childcare centres will remain closed until April 19, all non-essential retail outlets are to close, outdoor gatherings are now reduced to four unless from the same family, no unnecessary travel now or over the Easter period, all hotels are to limit occupancy to “essential non-social and non-tourist reasons”, caravan parks are to close, there’ll be an increased presence of Park Rangers, new powers will be afforded to Gardai, while private hospitals will operate as public under Section 38 of the Health Act – freeing up a large number of beds.

He said that from midnight tonight (Tuesday) theatres, clubs, gyms, hairdressers, libraries and similar outlets are to shut, and all cafes and restaurants should limit their supply to takeaways only.

The new National COVID-19 Income Support Scheme will provide financial support to Irish workers and companies affected by the crisis.

In summary:
* a temporary wage subsidy of 70% of take home pay up to a maximum weekly tax free amount of €410 per week to help affected companies keep paying their employees. This is the equivalent of €500 per week before tax
* workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis will receive an enhanced emergency COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 per week (an increase from €203)
* the COVID-19 illness payment will also be increased to €350 per week
* the self-employed will be eligible for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 directly from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (rather than the Revenue scheme)
* enhanced protections for people facing difficulties with their mortgages, rent or utility bills
* it follows from a range of supports already in place to help business through the crisis

The Government is taking these extraordinary measures to help ordinary Irish citizens and families during this period of great economic and social stress.

These measures will be costly – with an initial estimated cost of €3.7 billion over a 12 week period, he said.

The Government believes these costs are necessary to ensure social solidarity with workers and their families affected by the crisis.

“The impact of COVID-19 has been sudden and enormous,” the Taoiseach said. “The cost of all this will be great. We’re ahead of the curve in terms of taking action.”

He emphasised that physical distancing, hand washing and staying at home are the most important measures people can take.