North records biggest daily increase in cases as FF slam Government response

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Brian Adam
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08 cases in North; FF say response to economic crisis has been ‘underwhelming’

Northern Ireland has experienced its single biggest daily increase of confirmed cases of coronavirus since the first case was confirmed at the end of February.

An update from Stormont’s Department of Health said as of 2pm on Saturday, testing has resulted in 22 new positive cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 108. To date one person who tested positive has died.

The total number of tests completed in Northern Ireland is 2,186.

This number is expected to soar in the coming days after the department said earlier this week testing is going to be increased in the north to 800 per day.

Government response ‘underwhelming’

The Government is not doing enough to support businesses and workers affected by the coronavirus, Fianna Fáil has said.

The party’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the Government’s response to the current economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, had been “piecemeal, underwhelming and poorly executed”.

“This is the consensus among both unions and employer bodies,” he said.

“Comparisons with the actions of other national governments across the EU highlight starkly the inadequacies of what has been done so far here. With potentially hundreds of thousands of workers losing their job, the Government here has to do a lot more.”

He said it was not tenable to expect those who have lost their job to survive on €203 per week “while waiting weeks for even basic child dependant or adult dependant top-ups”.

“Government needs to do more, in partnership with employers, to boost the incomes of those who have lost their job or had their hours reduced through this crisis. This will not be cheap, but it must be done,” he said.

Cases of Covid-19 in Ireland

March 20th, 2020
Total cases: 683

  • 683 confirmed cases in the Republic, and three deaths
  • Bill passes to give Government emergency powers to deal with pandemic
  • Government to ramp up support for laid-off workers
  • Global death toll passes 10,000 and infections exceeded 244,000
  • Spain deaths soar to more than 1,300 as 70m in lockdown in US

    Mr McGrath’s party colleague Robert Troy, spokesman for business, enterprise and innovation, also criticised the Government’s response and said more was needed to protect struggling small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

“There is no doubt that the scale of our response has been below the average of other developed countries. Other small open economies such as Switzerland and New Zealand have undertaken fiscal packages of 1.6 per cent and 4 per cent of GDP respectively while Ireland’s measures stand at just 0.7 per cent of our GDP,” he said.

Mr Troy called for a waiver of 2020 commercial rates for all affected business and for the Goverment to engage with insurance providers to determine what damages they could cover.

A sign with guidelines on social distancing when outdoors in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin as an infectious disease expert has said Ireland will experience a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases before social distancing measures start to make an impact. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
A sign with guidelines on social distancing when outdoors in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin as an infectious disease expert has said Ireland will experience a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases before social distancing measures start to make an impact. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Support for workers

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on Friday said living off the €203 per week pandemic unemployment payment for those who have lost their jobs will be “a real challenge”.

“I accept that for many it’s not enough and we need to consider that, but we need to do something really quickly for those at risk of losing their jobs,” he told RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

Mr Donoghue also said he is interested in how a UK proposalto cover up to 80 per cent of the wages of employees laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic will operate.

The Government is considering a proposal under which it could pay up to three-quarters of the wages of thousands of staff who have been laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the interim, the Government on Friday night announced changes to its existing financial support arrangements, which would allow employers to top up the Covid-19 unemployment payment of €203 per week offered by the State to the 140,000 people who have lost their jobs in the past week.

Emergency powers

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins last night signed the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020, which was passed in the Seanad and gives the Government emergency powers to deal with the pandemic.

“These new health and social measures may be difficult for many, but they affect us all and we are at a point now when a person’s actions have consequences not only for themselves but for all in society. Irresponsible individual action puts all at risk. We must draw on our strengths now,” he said.

Speaking in Templemore, Co Tipperary, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was hopeful the new powers would not have to be used. Ireland had a history of policing “by consent, never by coercion”, he said. “And I hope that is never going to change as a consequence of this crisis.”

Public health officials say they have no current plans for further social restrictions or the closure of borders to counter the spread of coronavirus.

Ireland can “get a long way down the road” in fighting the virus through compliance by people with the measures already introduced, according to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

New Gardai during an attestation ceremony at the Garda Training College in Templemore, Co Tipperary on Friday. The new gardai will be deployed to stations nationwide to help respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Photograph: Mark Condren/PA Wire
New Gardai during an attestation ceremony at the Garda Training College in Templemore, Co Tipperary on Friday. The new gardai will be deployed to stations nationwide to help respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Photograph: Mark Condren/PA Wire

Community transmission

Another 126 new cases of the disease were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Friday evening, with cases involving community transmission surpassing the number of travel-related cases for the first time

There are now a total of 683 confirmed cases in the Republic, and three deaths.

With doctors at the frontline of the health services growing increasingly concerned about the system’s ability to respond to the massive surge of cases expected over the coming weeks, some have suggested a “lockdown” of non-essential services would help buy time by reducing the spread of infection.

Some 50,000 people in less than three days have contacted the HSE about taking up posts in the health service to deal with the expected surge in demand for care arising from the coronavirus outbreak. The HSE says it will begin interviewing 6,000 people per week, beginning next week.

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