An update from Ireland

Kilian Cawley | 02 Apr 2020 | European Perspective

Last Friday 27th March saw the Irish government take drastic action to combat the spread of COVID-19. The country was essentially placed in a lockdown situation, with the exception of essential services in operation. The approach adopted was based on encouragement as opposed to enforcement. The majority of the citizens are complying with these regulations to play their part in the battle against this invisible enemy.

To the forefront of peoples minds are the front line workers, the healthcare providers who have been recognised in a public display of gratitude through a unified national applause for their work. Also recognised are those workers who are keeping the shops and pharmacies open, utility providers, refuse collectors and so many other roles which are so important to our daily lives, which have gone under appreciated in the past.

The Irish tradition of wakes and funerals have now been put on hold by many dioceses to prevent situations where there is a risk of spreading the virus. Interments are going ahead with ceremonies postponed until after the crisis. Social distancing remains one of the key weapons in the ongoing fight, with cocooning of the elderly a major factor. Huge community support to assist and help in any way is happening in every corner of the country. People acknowledge that we are all human and susceptible to this virus and so wish to take responsibility to assist in beating it together.

There have been approximately 3,447 cases reported and 85 deaths in the Republic of Ireland, the death rate stood at 46 on Sunday. In Northern Ireland, there have been 689 recorded cases and 30 deaths so far. Daily updates from the Chief Medical Officer and government are keeping the nation informed. The criteria for testing has changed and the numbers of tests are increasing. Specially chartered flights to China have been arranged to provide over €200m of PPE for front line health workers which also includes ventilators. Contingencies are being put in place for additional health facilities to deal with the potential peak which is expected over the next 10 – 14 days.


Economic Vulnerability

The Irish economy is experiencing significant hardship as with most other developed economies. Only essential businesses are permitted to operate, food retail, pharmacies, essential manufacturing mainly healthcare related, farming and other prescribed activities.

Tourism, hospitality and leisure are amongst those sectors hardest hit. There are some positive stories coming through also, which provides encouragement for future opportunities. O’Neills the sportswear and football jersey manufacturer, while they reduced their workforce by over 600 employees, they are now manufacturing much needed hospital scrubs and PPE. Ireland’s distilleries have also stood up to the plate and have switched from gin and whiskey manufacture to much needed hand sanitisers. You could say the entrepreneurial spirit of Ireland is still very strong!

The ESRI has forecast that the economic growth will reduce by over 7% this year and that unemployment will increase to over 400,000, which would see the Irish unemployment rate go from 5% to over 18% in a matter of weeks.

At the moment most companies are in survival mode and cashflow is the foremost in the minds of many. The government have continued to reassure both individuals and companies that they will provide support in this difficult time and that the priority is to adhere to official virus prevention measures and to encourage companies to retain as many employees as possible. The state will pay up to 70% of employee salaries.


What is Government doing

The Government‘s efforts have been targeted at ensuring the health services do not collapse under the demands of the Coronavirus. Additional facilities are being put in place, PPE is being flown in from China, manufacturing is being encouraged within the country to meet the demands of the health sector. The call for additional workers, retired and the return of those health professionals spread around the world has been answered in great numbers. The caretaker government‘s popularity has jumped from 23% during the recent election to 34%, based on its handling of the situation. Most citizens believe and trust the actions taken as being in the best interests of Ireland and its people and those who are leading this are doing their best.

The ESRI figures which are outlined, are bleak and large and small companies throughout the country are worried. The Government’s a support package to assist business, is intended to compensate for this sharp shock, which everyone including the government hopes will be short in nature. While the cost of this support package is in the region of €3.7 billion for a 12 week period, there needs to be more significant and decisive supports beyond this period.

While most accept that the current situation will come to an end, a major factor for consideration is how phased will the global recovery be. China is now getting its industrial engines revved up again, however global demand is flat, the US is bracing itself for a major medical crisis and Europe is experiencing significant death and disruption.

Ireland will not be able to rebuild the economy on its own, our EU partners will have to step up and help all EU countries affected by the virus rebuild, reinvest and reform how business is done. This will require large sums of money and a decisive co-ordinated stimulus approach to ensure a stronger EU emerges. Clear focused EU leadership with strong cooperation and collaboration is required.

Brexit has not gone away. It has moved down the list in terms of importance. Given the global shock which COVID- 19 has delivered so comprehensively, it is also likely that an extension will be inevitable. In a time where global cooperation, collaboration and unity is required, does Brexit look like a good idea now?


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