AHCPS – Q4PR Update on COVID 19 Crisis

COVID-19 Public Affairs Update

The latest figures indicate a total of 17,607 confirmed cases resulting in 794 deaths in both hospital and residential settings arising from COVID-19.

While there has been a 32% increase in cases in the past week, the rate of increase is significantly lower than the previous week (202%).  In the Dáil, Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed that the Reproductive Rate for COVID -19 had fallen again to between 0.5 and 1.

According to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) over 8,500 patients have recovered from COVID-19 in the community and another 856 patients have recovered after being treated in hospital.

However, there are 1,944 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus in nursing homes. This is 61% higher than the number of nursing home infections revealed by the NPHET earlier this week alone. In recent days the HSE has tested over 18,000 staff and residents in nursing homes around the country. There are 28,000 nursing home residents in the State and 30,000 staff.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer said the World Health Organisation had noted that up to half of those who have died of COVID-19 across Europe were living in residential care settings.

Political Response

Political leaders continue to issue warnings that there will not be a ‘significant’ lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on May 5th and are warning in particular of the dangers of increased complacency by the public until then – a pattern which the HSE says is becoming more evident in certain parts of the country.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have reiterated the need for public vigilance in maintaining the lockdown arrangements and warn that the next few weeks will be essential  in ensuring maximum protection against the pandemic in the medium and longer terms.

Economic Response

This week the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe published the Stability Programme Update, and predicted that unemployment would reach 22% this quarter, the largest on record.

The overall fiscal cost of the virus in exchequer terms would also be significant with the Government now expecting to run a deficit of 7.5 per cent or €23 billion this year, instead of  the projected surplus of €2.2 billion, which had been forecast at the start of the year.

The economy is expected to shrink by 10.5 % this year, with measures taken to combat COVID -19 here and internationally resulting in a sharp contraction of both domestic and external demand. The Department of Finance is predicting a “U-shaped recovery” rather than a V-shaped one, adding that it did not expect the worst-case scenario of an “L-shaped recovery”.

Employment is expected to grow by 5.5% in 2021  meaning an additional 115,000 jobs and that would reduce the unemployment rate to below 10% , while GDP growth in 2021 will be approximately 6%.

Government Formation Update

Having published their joint Framework Document last week, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael began joint meetings on Monday with Independent deputies in a bid to build a working majority in Dáil Eireann and form a Government.

There are firmer signs that the Green Party is considering entering the talk process. The Party, which has 12 TDs, this week sent a letter to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seeking clarification of elements of the joint framework document. In it, they asked 17 questions as a precursor to joining a Government, chief of which was a request for an annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 7% and an “ambitious programme” of development and investment in renewable energy infrastructure.

Green TD for Dublin Central, Neassa Hourigan, said this week’s dire economic predictions were “not a reason to stay out of Government” and that when it came to decisions about how to rebuild the economy, her party was “looking to be involved”.

A number of independent groupings are now also circling the talks process. A new technical group comprising Marian Harkin, Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara and others met with the two parties on Monday while two other independent groups- the “Rural” group which includes the Healey-Rae brothers from Kerry and the 9- strong “Regional” group led by former Minister Denis Naughten – held meetings later in the week. This morning Denis Naughten signalled a shift in position stating that the Regional Independent group would now be willing to participate in Government without their former prerequisite of another smaller party being in the coalition mix.

Labour and the  Social Democrats remain cool on the prospect of coalition. Labour is due to give its views on the Framework Document by the end of today while the Social Democrats said on Wednesday that they had written to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael asking how they propose to pay for the various elements of the proposals in light of the crisis facing the public finances.

Taoiseach – “This is not about me”

The Taoiseach gave a set piece interview to RTE’s Primetime on Tuesday evening. On the issue of Government formation, he defended the Framework Document against charges that it was vague, saying he did not want to present a fait accompli to possible partners but rather invite them to make their inputs.

Despite reports that the parties had agreed a rotating Taoiseach arrangement, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to first occupy the office, Leo Varadkar said that no decisions on cabinet posts had been made and the issue of Government formation was “not about me”.

New Government unlikely to be formed soon

With much more negotiations to come before a new Government is formed, there has been further speculation that no new Government will be in place until June. Tánaiste Simon Coveney repeated on Wednesday that Fine Gael only wanted to form a Government that involved a third party, suggesting that several weeks might be given to convincing the Greens, Labour and the Social Democrats to join a coalition.

Meanwhile, there were mixed signals from Fianna Fáil about whether or not a vote of the membership that is technically needed before the party can enter Government might be circumvented. Party Leader Micheál Martin said he would consult on the issue but his Deputy, Dara Calleary said it was “not true” that party members would not be asked to vote on any deal.

Other parties in a putative coalition are also required under internal rules to get their members’ endorsement. No suggestions as to how this could happen under current restrictions have yet been made.

Brexit Update

The EU and UK began their second round of negotiations this week via video conference. There are two more rounds of negotiations slated to take place on May 11th and June 1st. The UK will need to notify the European Commission of its wish to extend negotiations by June if it needs more time to achieve a deal. The UK has said it will not tolerate any extension, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst global recession in a century.

This came as both the Scottish government and former Deputy PM David Lidington called on the UK to extend the Brexit negotiation process, citing insufficient time till June to get a deal.

EU Developments

European Union leaders met on Thursday to discuss a joint financing of a recovery after the coronavirus pandemic by asking the European Commission to propose a €1 trillion stimulus fund to target the most affected sectors and regions.

Earlier, the European Commission had published a ‘roadmap’ to bring all of Europe out of the COVID-19 crisis together. The commission’s plan works on three principles – namely that action must be based on science and have public health at its centre, while balancing social and economic remedies. It says action must be coordinated between the member states to avoid negative spillover effects.

The roadmap also has recommendations member states should consider when planning to lift measures. These include measures being lifted gradually in different steps, internal border controls being lifted in a coordinated manner and a phasing-in of economic activity.

Meanwhile, Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has rejected calls for mass repatriation of manufacturing to Europe in response to the coronavirus pandemic and he wants to press ahead with signing new trade deals to cut tariffs.

Agri-Food Developments

The European Commission has announced a series of “exceptional measures” to support the agri-food sector during the coronavirus pandemic, including a private storage aid scheme to allow producers to withdraw products from the market until it recovers.

The measures, valued at €80 million, come amid a global slump in food demand triggered by shutdowns of the food service and hospitality sectors across Europe and the US. Following the announcement, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed said the fund will not be enough on its own to deal with the pandemic’s fallout.

Alcohol/Health Update

According to statistics from Nielsen, which collects data from supermarkets, off-licences and discount stores, the sale of take-home alcohol in recent weeks is almost 40% higher than it was in the same period last year.

Drinkaware said it received some 40,000 visits to its alcohol and COVID-19 support page in the first nine days of its publication.

IBEC’s chief economist, Ger Brady, pointed out that the off-trade represents 60% of sales and is up 58%, while on-trade is worth 40% of sales and down 100%, which shows that actual sales are down 5%.

Environmental Update

Emissions from Irish power generation and industrial companies fell 8.7%  – 1.3 million tonnes – last year, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This mirrors a decrease of approximately 8.9 % across Europe.

The EPA said the decrease in emissions is due to a significant drop in power generation emissions (a 12.3% decrease) as a result of the strong presence of renewable energy – mainly wind generation – and less use of fossil fuels in our energy mix.


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