Policy responses for Ireland - HSRM

Ireland


Policy responses for Ireland

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

Update 15 September 2020: Travel advice updated

The Irish government has advised against non-essential foreign travel from the start of the pandemic though a ‘green list’ of countries from which individuals would not have to quarantine for 14 days if arriving from has been in operation.

Under new rules published on 15 September 2020, people will no longer be advised against all non-essential overseas travel.  For the period ahead, people will be able to travel for any reason to countries on the ‘green list’ where the advice is to take normal COVID-19 precautions. The list will be updated on a weekly basis, to include EU / EEA countries with a 14 day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of 25 or less, based on the latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Of the change, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: ‘The travel policy has changed and with that the travel advice has changed. So we are an island nation, we do need to be connected to the rest of the world, not just for business and tourism but also so people can see friends and family and relatives’.

Source:

https://www.dfa.ie/travel/

Update 27 July 2020: Public health advice for school reopening published

Minister for Education and Skills, Norma Foley TD published the government’s roadmap for the full return to school on 27 July 2020 (https://assets.gov.ie/82145/40753991-21a5-4715-a5a1-0f193df95ade.pdf).

At the roadmap launch, Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD said: ‘Our schools are at the heart of our communities and reopening them is a critical step in recovering from the worst impact of the pandemic’ (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/bubbles-pods-and-isolation-areas-how-primary-schools-will-reopen-1.4315151).

The Roadmap sets out public health advice to schools including a return to work safety protocol, a suite of additional supports to enable to implementation of COVID-19 measures in schools, mental health and wellbeing supports for students and staff, and more.
A financial package of over €375 million has also been approved by government to fund an additional 1,080 teaching posts in post-primary schools to reduce class sizes and to fund a group of replacement teaching staff, special needs assistants, and administrative staff to be deployed in cases where staff members are taken ill or are advised to cocoon (https://www.education.ie/en/Press-Events/Press-Releases/2020-press-releases/PR20-07-27.html). Additionally €52 million is being allocated to pay for enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures with another €75 million going towards preparing buildings and classrooms for reopening.

Secondary schools are to require a one-metre physical distancing between students. This may require refurbishment of schools and the additional 1,080 teaching posts have been allocated in recognition that smaller groups will be taught together necessitating more teachers.

At primary level, each class will bubble together and stay apart from other classes. Where possible, each class can be subdivided into pods with groups of students within each pod keeping a metre’s distance from the others. The aim is to limit the sharing of facilities rather than to avoid all contact between pods (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/bubbles-pods-and-isolation-areas-how-primary-schools-will-reopen-1.4315151).

Staff are instructed to maintain at least one metre’s distance and where possible two metres from students and each other. Teachers’ desks should at least a metre from students’ desks. Breaks and meal times are to be different for each class bubble or to take place in segregated areas.

Staggered drop-off and collection are recommended with no congregating at school gates allowed. Hand hygiene should be performed by all upon arrival at school and throughout the day. Neither students nor staff will be expected to wear face coverings as there are concerns that they will conceal facial expressions and make communication difficult.

A number of measures are in place to immediately deal with suspected cases of COVID-19.

Update 14 July 2020: Ongoing concerns over people arriving in Ireland from regions with high rates of COVID-19 cases

On 14 July, the airline Ryanair said it would cut 1,000 flights – with the potential loss of up to 200,000 passengers – from its Ireland-UK schedules in August and September if COVID-19 quarantines remained in place (https://www.irishtimes.com/business/transport-and-tourism/ryanair-and-aer-lingus-cut-flights-as-travel-restrictions-continue-1.4304204). Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus are reducing flights just weeks after restarting their operations at the beginning of July as Government Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place.

Ryanair is very critical of Ireland saying it is the only EU country with a 14-day quarantine restriction on all arrivals from other states in the bloc, most of which it claimed had lower Covid-19 infection rates.

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke on the BBC Andrew Marr Show on 12 July 2020. He advised British holidaymakers not to come here at present. Mr Martin explained that Ireland was taking a “cautious approach”, emphasising that all visitors would have to quarantine for two weeks if they came to the Republic.

This announcement was made amidst ongoing concerns from public health experts, medics and politicians about increasing numbers of flights coming into Ireland from areas with increasing numbers COVID-19 cases. The government is planning to publish a list of “green” countries from where people could arrive without quarantining on 20 July 2020 (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/covid-19-restrictions-on-travelling-abroad-may-last-several-years-expert-warns-1.4302672). Increasingly people are concerned with the countries which are not on the green list and how Irish authorities are managing the required but not enforced quarantine measures. 

Update 6 July 2020: Irish Government extends advice to avoid all no essential travel while restrictions ease in Northern Ireland
 
The Irish government extended the current advice to the public to avoid all non-essential travel until 20 July 2020 at a cabinet meeting held on 6 July 2020 (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/cabinet-extends-advice-to-avoid-nonessential-travel-until-july-20th-1.4297457).

It had previously promised to publish a ‘green list’ of all countries that people could travel to on 9 July. This was to include countries will similar levels of COVID-19 that would be regularly reviewed.
Instead it reissued previous advice that non-essential travel is not advised and should be avoided. Further advice will be issued on 20 July 2020. This decision was made following increased levels of the virus in other European countries. Announcing the decision the new Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin said the Government had two key objectives, the first of which is to ensure that schools can reopen fully at the end of August and the second that non-Covid healthcare such as screening can restart their activity as soon as possible.

In Northern Ireland, from 10 July, travel restrictions eased thus creating different travel advice for people in Ireland, North and South (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-advice). From 10 July 2020, people no longer have to self-isolate when they arrive in Northern Ireland, if they are returning from certain countries.

That is because these countries or territories are: exempted countries or British overseas territories. This list of countries is continually under review and self-isolation requirements could be reintroduced at any time for public health reasons. It is recommended that people continue to self-isolate if they were in, or transited through, a country that is not on the list in the 14 days before return Northern Ireland.

It is expected that many Northern Irish people will travel overseas via Dublin airport following the eased restrictions.

Update 2 June 2020: Minister for health concerned with prospect of resumption of foreign travel

While other EU countries are allowing international travel to begin, the Irish Government is still advising the public that non-essential travel should be avoided. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said on 2 July 2020 that he is concerned that foreign travel might lead to a second COVID-19 wave with cases of Covid-19 in Ireland from international travel having risen from 2% for the last few months, to 17% in the last few weeks (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/health-officials-very-concerned-about-foreign-travel-says-donnelly-1.4294404).

Minister Donnelly said that public health advice will be received on 02 June 2020 to be discussed at a cabinet subcommittee on 03 June 2020 and a decision from Government early the week of 6 July. On 7 July the cabinet will consider how travel could resume safely by looking at whether overseas countries could be put on a “green list” being devised by the EC if they have low levels of infection (https://www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0702/1150921-coronavirus-ireland/). This would allow travel between countries on the green list where travel could be allowed without having to undergo a two-week quarantine when coming back to Ireland.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has said he would like to see a return to international travel as soon as it is safe to do so.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan warned on 28 June 2020 in a letter to the Minister for Health following a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) that resumption of overseas travel is a “major threat to public health and increases the risk of a potential second-wave” of Covid-19 in Ireland (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/tony-holohan-overseas-travel-is-a-major-covid-19-threat-1.4290551). He has further publicly encouraged people to not go on holidays outside of Ireland this year.

Update 1 July 2020: Extension of COVID-19 Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme

On Tuesday 30 June 2020, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD announced an extension to the COVID-19 Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme with effect of 1 July 2020 (https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/a3d4a-minister-for-health-announces-extension-to-the-covid-19-temporary-assistance-payment-scheme/).
 
The Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme was established as a temporary support mechanism to contribute towards COVID-19 related measures and associated expected costs in nursing homes. The Scheme provided support for nursing homes for April, May and June and was due to close at the end of June but has now been extended to include further supports for July, August and September.
 
The Scheme has two parts:
  • a support payment per month based on the number of residents:
   o €600 per resident per month for the first 40 residents;
   o €300 per resident per month for the next 40 residents;
   o €150 per resident per month for each subsequent resident.
  • enhanced assistance in the event of a nursing home actively managing an outbreak.

Additionally, the HSE is continuing to provide PPE supplies to nursing homes but the Scheme no longer covers this cost. The administration of the scheme has been streamlined for the extension period and nursing homes will now be required to provide a copy of their preparedness and any compliance plans in place with Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). Applicants will also be required to provide a final report on expenditure and its utilisation, in the final month of the Scheme in September.

Update 9 June 2020: Further funding for COVID-19 research projects announced

In April, €5 million in research funding was allocated to 26 projects under a newly-established national, coordinated research and innovation response to the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.sfi.ie/research-news/news/covid19-research/index.xml). On June 9, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys announced the further investment of €1.4 million in 11 additional projects (https://dbei.gov.ie/Djei/en/News-And-Events/Department-News/2020/June/090062020.html).

The eleven new projects will research the following topics:
  • Putting COVID-19 infections on the map in Ireland – TU Dublin
  • Remote blood-pressure monitoring in pregnancy in the COVID-19 pandemic – University College Cork
  • A rapid test for COVID-19 antibodies – NUI Galway
  • Rapid Advanced Production Responses to Frozen Supply Chains in Hospitals - University of Limerick
  • Ireland’s medium-term future in the COVID-19 pandemic – Maynooth University
  • Expanding lab tests for the COVID-19 virus – Waterford IT
  • COVIGILANT - Evidence to inform Ireland’s digital contact-tracing strategy – University of Limerick
  • New antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2 – Maynooth University
  • 3D printing PPE for healthcare settings – University College Dublin
• Identifying Protective Immunity in Frontline Healthcare Staff During the COVID-19 Pandemic- Trinity College Dublin
• SARS-CoV-2 in sewage and bodies of water – University College Dublin

28 May 2020: Minister for Health confirms new travel measures in light of COVID-19 pandemic

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD signed regulations which came into effect on 28 May 2020 which make it obligatory for passengers arriving from overseas to complete a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form. They will remain in effect until 18 June 2020, when they will be reviewed (https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/d09ad0-minister-for-health-confirms-new-travel-measures-in-light-of-covid-1/). The government continues to advise Irish citizens and residents against all non-essential international travel, and passengers arriving into Ireland from outside of the island of Ireland are asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The form will be used to facilitate a system of follow up checks to make sure people who travel to the country are staying where they said that they would. The form will allow more accurate and quicker contact tracing, should there be a confirmed case on a flight or ferry coming into Ireland.

The Regulations introduce new offences punishable by a fine not exceeding €2,500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or both, for the following:
  • failure to complete and give the form to a relevant person
  • providing information that to the person’s knowledge is false or misleading (whether on the form, when presenting the form, or in subsequent follow-up checks)
  • failure to provide further information to a relevant person upon request (who suspects that the form has not been completed properly)
  • failure to update residence or contact details if they change within 14 days of arrival into the State.

Certified international transport workers, air and maritime pilot/masters and crew, will not have to complete the form. Passengers who are travelling immediately onwards to Northern Ireland will have to fill out a portion of the form.

• Borders:

No border restrictions are currently (01/04/2020) in place in Ireland. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had travel advisories in place since early February. These have changed as the epicentre of the virus moved from China to Europe and now advise against all non-essential travel overseas to all countries excluding Northern Ireland until further notice.

On 16 March, the National Public Health Emergency Team met and made the following decisions:
  • all Irish residents are advised against all non-essential travel overseas at this time until 29 March
  • all persons, including Irish residents, entering the country from overseas should restrict movements for 14 days, if showing no symptoms. This does not apply to Northern Ireland
  • NPHET strongly recommends against leisure cruise ship travel
Since 26 March, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises against all non-essential travel overseas until further notice. This includes Great Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland. It also includes all travel by cruise ship. Travel restrictions escalated during the month of March.

The COVID-19 Action plan includes commitments for Business Continuity Action Plans for the following sectors – energy, telecoms, broadcasting, postal, waste, water, fire and emergency services and public transport. It also has a section dedicated to ensuring supply chains.

• Mobility (transport):

From 28 March, the following travel restrictions are in place:
  • there will be a nationwide restriction on travel outside of 2 kilometres from your home
  • public transport and passenger travel will be restricted to those who are buying food or medicines, carers, going to medical appointments and essential workers
  • travel to Ireland's offshore islands is limited only to residents of those islands
  • local authorities will relax on-street parking laws to meet the travel needs of essential workers
  • the arrival of personal non-national maritime leisure vessels is banned (except to exceptions as 'port in a storm').

While public transport continues to operate in Ireland in early April, it is only for travel for essential work or other essential reasons such as medical appointments, shopping, caring.

Sources:

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Important Travel Advice and Update: https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/coronavirus/
National Transport Authority. COVID-19 Service Information update: https://www.nationaltransport.ie/news/covid-19-service-information-update/

• Economy:

The Government has announced a package of fiscal measures to deal with COVID-19, which total €7.2 billion. These include additional funding to the HSE and social welfare provisions for those on sick leave from work or in self-isolation to enable compliance with public health advice. On 9th March 2020 the following financial support measures were announced following a cabinet sub-committee meeting: 
  • A package of reforms was agreed for sick pay, illness benefit and supplementary benefit that is designed to ensure that employees and the self-employed can abide by medical advice to self-isolate where appropriate, while having their income protected to a far greater degree than under the current social welfare system. This is estimated to cost up to €2.4 billion
  • An initial package for business including €200 million in liquidity funding
  • The St Patirck’s Day festival (Ireland’s national day) was cancelled
 
On 24 March, the government, as part of the €7.2 billion fiscal package, announced a National COVID-19 Income Support Scheme. This is to provide financial support to Irish workers and companies affected by the crisis. Measures include:

  • 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

A report published by the ESRI on 9 April estimates that the Covid-19 unemployment payments could cost the Government nearly €5bn for a three month period. The Government introduced a range of social welfare supports including the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. The ESRI report examines the cost and benefit of the schemes (https://www.esri.ie/publications/the-potential-costs-and-distributional-effect-of-covid-19-related-unemployment-in?utm_source=Newsweaver&utm_medium=email&utm_term=ESRI+website&utm_content=All+Subscribers&utm_campaign=ESRI+media+release%3A+Policy+response+significantly+supports+incomes+from+COVID-19+job+losses).

According to the Department of Social Protection, in the week starting 6 April, 507,000 people received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Under a medium unemployment scenario, the ESRI forecasts that there could be an 600,000 unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This, it believes, will cost the Government €4.9bn for three months under the current schemes.

The ESRI also warns that the cap on higher earners in the wage subsidy scheme may encourage firms to lay off those employees rather than retaining them. It finds the schemes will cushion the impact on the incomes of lower earners but less so for higher earners.

On 15 April 2020 internet providers have signed a charter to enable free access to essential COVID-19 related websites such as the hse.ie and gov.ie (.https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/4abe3c-daily-briefing-on-the-governments-response-to-covid-19-wednesday-15t/).  The charter also means that all major internet providers will help people stay in touch and work from home during COVID-19.
The charter outlines a range of measures including
  •  Giving people opportunity to make affordable arrangements to upgrade their packages to higher or unlimited rates
  •  Not restricting internet usage
  •  Managing traffic and ensuring networks don't become congested
  •  Service providers will engage with any customer that contacts them who is in financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19 and has difficulty paying their bills to agree the best way of keeping them connected to voice and data.

On 5 May 2020, the Department of Finance published its latest exchequer returns and a revised set of tax and spending forecasts ( https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c46b76-fiscal-monitor-april-2020/). These returns detail the extent of the impact Covid 19 pandemic on the public finances including declining tax revenues and increased expenditure. Specifics detailed are:
  • Tax revenues in April were down 8 per cent, or €223 million, on April last year
  • Excise receipts fell 50 per cent year-on-year, or nearly €300 million, reflecting reduced consumption and a fall in new car sales (VRT)
  • At over €20 billion, net voted expenditure to end-April was ahead of profile by €2.4 billion, or 13.5%. In year-on-year terms, expenditure was up €3.8 billion, or over 23%.
  • The rise in expenditure reflects increased departmental drawdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in the areas of health and social protection.
  • An Exchequer deficit of €7.5 billion was recorded to end-April 2020.
  • It is expected that the pandemic will result in whole year loss in tax will be in the region of €14 billion.

Sources:

Government of Ireland. COVID-19 Information for employers and employees: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/4cf0e2-covid-19-coronavirus-information-for-employers-and-employees-test/?referrer=/en/publication/0b6a34-advice-for-employers-and-employees/ 
International Monetary Fund. Policy Tracker: https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#I  
Press releases, Agendas and minutes of the meetings of the National Public Health Emergency Team: https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/691330-national-public-health-emergency-team-covid-19-coronavirus/  

• Community and voluntary sector

In the Government COVID-19 Action Plan, it stated the following actions in relation to vulnerable groups:

  • Plan and implement measures for, and continue to identify at risk vulnerable groups and the socially vulnerable, including those not receiving health and social care services
  • Continue to put in place specific arrangements for, and enable mobilised organisations across Government and the community and voluntary sector, in conjunction with essential supporting staff, in meeting the specific needs of socially vulnerable people (e.g. sheltered housing, addiction services, homeless services, mental health services, direct provision centres, prisons, detention campuses and those with non-standard living arrangements)
  • Roll out and expand additional support requirements related to COVID-19

• Civil protection:

There has been no declaration of a State of Emergency but all Garda Siochána (police) and army resources required are being made available to the national effort. For example, the army have been building field hospitals in case they are needed during the expected surge in demand for health services. The police have been encouraging people to stay at home since the stay at home measures were introduced on 28/03/2020. They are also involved in supporting people over 70 to stay in their own home.

• Cross-border collaboration

Ireland is in the unusual position of having two different jurisdictions on the one island with two different governments and health systems. At the Republic of Ireland’s NPHET meeting on 4/02/2020 it was noted that ‘communication continues with UK/Northern Ireland counterparts. Slight variance was noted in UK vs European advice on “self-isolation” of travellers returning from Mainland China’. The DOH is formally engaging with counterparts from Northern Ireland with respect to an all-island assessment of the risk presented by COVID-19. This includes the sharing of documents and data to inform planning assumptions.

On 6 April 2020, The Ministers for Health of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland agreed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Irish Government and Northern Ireland Executive (https://www.gov.ie/en/news/31af90-ministers-for-health-agree-memorandum-of-understanding-between-irish/). The Memorandum of Understanding was formally agreed between the Departments of Health for the Republic and Northern Ireland to underpin and strengthen North-South co-operation on the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The memo focuses on facilitating greater co-operation on areas such as:
  • public health messaging
  • research
  • programmes of behavioural change
  • ethics
  • evidence base/ modelling
  • public health and non-pharmaceutical measures

Other areas will be considered, such as procurement, where this is of mutual benefit.

10 June 2020: Irish prisons infection control model submitted as best practice to the WHO

The Irish Prison Service has submitted a best practice paper to WHO on their approach to handling the pandemic (https://www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0610/1146481-covid19-coronavirus-prisons/). While a number of prison staff tested positive for covid-19, there were no cases among the population of 3,705 prisoners. The approach builds on the work going back to 2017 when an Infection Control Team for the Prison Service was established following an outbreak of tuberculosis. This resulted in adoption of "a whole of prison approach" which involved contact tracing as well as creating an educational platform and encouraging peer-to-peer learning for staff and prisoners to understand and practice infection control measures such as hand washing and coughing etiquette.

As a result of having this approach in place, the Infection Control Team began contact tracing covid-19 in prisons and sourced sufficient supply of PPE for them in January, before the pandemic was declared and ahead of a national response. The approach involved interviewing and isolating symptomatic cases in both prisoners and staff “at the earliest opportunity” and learning about potential hotspots for infection. It rested on collaboration between prisoners and staff and on getting the prisoner population on board with infection control practices. The latter was achieved through the work of prisoners trained as part of a jail-based scheme as Red Cross volunteers. Their role was to relay the information to other inmates explaining social distancing and hygiene measures, and explain the purpose behind change to their daily routines such as meal times and lack of family visits.

4 May 2020: Pledge of €18 million in support of Vaccine Alliance

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced on 4 May that Ireland has pledged €18 million in support of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, for use between 2021 and 2025 (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/covid-19-ireland-pledges-18-million-to-vaccine-alliance-gavi-1.4244811).This funding will support GAVI’s important work in procuring vaccines and distributing them to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, including a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available.

Ireland has committed a total of €78 million to support international efforts to combat COVID-19 including the work of the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/7584df-ireland-pledges-18-million-to-support-gavi-vaccine-alliance-in-fight/).

Mr Varadkar said "Working together we can develop an effective vaccine, effective treatments, testing systems that work, diagnostics and therapeutics. Ireland wants to play its part in this effort”.

Source:

Press releases, Agendas and minutes of the meetings of the National Public Health Emergency Team: https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/691330-national-public-health-emergency-team-covid-19-coronavirus/