Ministers are expected to consider retaining higher rates of financial supports for businesses at a special meeting today, in light of the deteriorating Covid-19 situation.
The Cabinet subcommittee on economics will receive an update on financial supports amid widespread infections across the State and new restrictions being imposed on businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.
Industry sources said yesterday that restaurants, hotels and pubs had been hit by a huge number of cancellations of Christmas parties.
While a proposal is anticipated in relation to the employment wage subsidy scheme (EWSS), a number of sources said they did not expect the Government to reverse reductions in pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) from €250 per week to €200, which kicked in last week. Opposition parties have been calling for the higher rates to be restored.
The EWSS gives businesses impacted by Covid-19 a subsidy per employee to help keep them in work. Payments for each employee are due to fall to €203 per week on December 1st, from the existing rates of €250 and €350. For those receiving €203 at present, this is due to fall to €151.
The subcommittee – which includes the five most senior Ministers in Government – will discuss putting a stay on those reductions until after the Christmas period.
“The discussions in the days and weeks ahead will focus on the level of [EWSS] support in the context of the progression of the virus,” said one senior source.
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Another Government source said the wage subsidy scheme would have to be discussed. “There is a lot of pressure on restaurants and hospitality which are seeing a lot of cancellations. There may be a proposal about leaving the EWSS rates unchanged.”
Hospitality industry representatives said the public health changes and restrictions announced in the past week were having a seriously detrimental effect.
“We have encountered a significant number of cancellations coming up to Christmas,” said Pádraig Cribben of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland. He called for current rates of EWSS to be maintained into 2022.
Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association of Ireland echoed that demand and also called for new payments under the Covid recovery support scheme, which covers business overheads. “We are seeing massive cancellations in corporate bookings for Christmas parties and we are getting hit left, right and centre as a result,” he said.
A total of 4,181 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Sunday with 669 people in hospital and 125 in intensive care.
Nphet’s head of modelling, Prof Philip Nolan, said that if nothing were done, the State would be in “very significant difficulty in the course of December.
He said the reproduction rate or R-rate was 1.2-1.3 and it needed to be reduced to below 1. “What that means in practical terms is if we reduce our level of social contacts by about 30 per cent … we will suppress the virus again.”
Separately, the Mater in Dublin has set up a “serious incident management team” after an organ transplant operation was cancelled due to a shortage of ICU beds caused by the Covid-19 surge.
The hospital said it took the “unprecedented decision” to cancel the surgery on November 12th to “ensure the safety of the transplant patient involved”.
Seriously ill Covid-19 patients, accounting for half of the patients in the hospital’s ICU that day, meant the hospital was experiencing severe capacity constraints when the decision was taken.
Efforts to find a bed within the hospital and across Dublin hospitals for the patient proved unsuccessful. HSE data shows there were no ICU beds free in seven Dublin hospitals that day.