New support announced for businesses as restrictions begin to bite

·4-min read
A man walks past empty seating outside a pub in Dublin (Damien Storan/PA) (PA Wire)
A man walks past empty seating outside a pub in Dublin (Damien Storan/PA) (PA Wire)

The Government has announced a range of new support for businesses after it introduced fresh restrictions to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result of the new measures, designed to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, the Government plans to spend around 200 million euro on business and employer support in January alone.

It came as ministers promised better days ahead in the spring and summer, even amid uncertainty about whether the current level of restrictions will be enough to arrest a wave of infections over the coming days and weeks.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme has reopened for new applicants in the hospitality and arts sectors.

He also confirmed that the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme will be available to all hospitality businesses that have closed because of the new restrictions.

This will be the case if businesses decide it is not “practical” or does not “cover the cost” to stay open.

Mr Varadkar said funding will be provided to businesses that choose to stay open but have a drop in turnover to 40% of the previous level.

He urged business owners: “Please keep your staff on the payroll, if at all possible.”

Mr Varadkar said the hospitality and arts sector will still be needed in the spring and summer, as ministers promise better days ahead once the Omicron wave has passed.

Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)
Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

“You are not in any way to blame for this pandemic,” he told businesses.

“The Government is on your side. We are here to support you.”

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said changes to the eligibility criteria for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme will provide greater support to a wider range of businesses.

Firms that de-registered from the scheme will be able to re-enter, Mr Donohoe said, if they can meet turnover criteria.

New restrictions were introduced on Monday, including an 8pm curfew on hospitality, while the chief medical officer and other health officials urged people to rethink their Christmas plans.

Mr Donohoe said he would not make predictions about what the next few months would bring, calling it “really unknowable from a health point of view”.

But he added: “We are going to get to a better place with this pandemic due to our booster vaccination efforts, due to the way the country is following public health guidance. We will get to a point in 2022 that will be an awful lot better than where we are as we approach this Christmas.”

Paschal Donohoe (Julien Behal Photography/PA) (PA Media)
Paschal Donohoe (Julien Behal Photography/PA) (PA Media)

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said the measures would help thousands of people retain employment.

He told the briefing: “The public health restrictions announced after last Friday’s Cabinet meeting are not ones that any Government would want to announce before Christmas.”

He acknowledged the restrictions had caused “anxiety and despair” for many workers and business owners and many people were expected to lose their jobs.

Mr McGrath said it is “imperative that we act swiftly to deal with the real-world consequences of the public health measures”.

Mr Donohoe and Mr McGrath said they were confident that the measures to support businesses were the right ones.

The Finance Minister said support for businesses could not go on “indefinitely” but told reporters it is “economically and ethically right that we intervene the way we are”.

Mr McGrath said the Government had a choice when it came to businesses and employees.

“The choice is to let them fold or help them survive, and it is always the better option to support businesses and give them the opportunity to survive.”

He acknowledged not all businesses will survive once Government supports are withdrawn.

Taking questions from reporters, Mr Varadkar acknowledged the future was uncertain with case numbers rising, but the Government was monitoring the situation across the UK and Europe to learn from other countries and their experience of Omicron.

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