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CITY TRIBUNE

New Covid-19 restrictions come into effect tonight

Enda Cunningham

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New measures to respond to the Covid-19 emergency have been announced by Government – including new income supports and closures of ‘non-essential retail outlets’ and gatherings outdoors to be limited to four people

Announcing the measures, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “These are unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency.”

Restrictions announced a fortnight ago are being extended until April 19.

And from tonight at midnight, the following measures come into effect:

  • markets, casinos, bingo halls, libraries and other similar outlets are to shut
  • all hotels to limit occupancy to essential non-social and non-tourist reasons
  • all non-essential retail outlets are to close to members of the public and all other retail outlets are to implement physical distancing
  • all cafes and restaurants are to limit supply to take away food or delivery
  • all sporting events are cancelled, including those behind closed doors
  • all playgrounds and holiday/caravan parks will close
  • all places of worship are to restrict numbers entering at any one time to ensure adequate physical distancing
  • all organised social indoor and outdoor events of any size are not to take place

The Taoiseach said: “Gardai will increase interventions where venues are not in compliance with, or where groups of people are not adhering to recommended physical distancing.

“All household contacts of a suspect case (that is, a person who is awaiting a test or test result) should restrict movements until the test is reported negative or for 14 days since the onset of symptoms, whichever is shorter.

“Individuals should work from home unless attendance at workplace is absolutely essential.

“Social gatherings of individuals outdoors should be no more than four persons, unless all are from the same household.

“All non-essential indoor visits to other persons’ homes should be avoided. All crowded places, including public amenities, should be avoided. All scheduled cruise ship travel will cease,” he said.

He added that the Government are raising the Covid Unemployment Payment to €350 a week.

“This is approximately 75% of average earnings in the sectors most affected, and compares favourably to what is being done in other countries. The first payments will be made on Friday.

“The Covid Illness Benefit will also increase to €350 per week and can be topped up by employers. This will be paid to people self-isolating.

“In order to encourage employers and companies badly affected by the Emergency to keep staff on the payroll, a wage subsidy scheme will be introduced to co-fund 70% of the cost of salaries up to a maximum of €38,000 a year. At a salary of €38,000 the subsidy will equate to €410 a week in take-home pay.

“The cost of this will be great. Many billions of euro in the coming months. But we can bear it and we will be able to pay it back as a nation. We do so willingly because it is the right thing to do and because we owe it to our fellow citizens.

“I believe that maintaining the link between employees and employers and companies will make it easier for us to bounce back when this is all over. We will keep our economic infrastructure intact. We will give businesses the best chance of making it through this.

“The self-employed will also be covered. I know the sacrifices so many of our self-employed have made to build up their businesses and practices and I know how worried they are now,” the Taoiseach said.

The Cabinet this morning approved the ‘Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Covid Bill’.

This legislation, for the duration of the Emergency, will:

  • freeze rents
  • prevent evictions
  • make it easier for health care professionals to re-register and return to work
  • enable former members of our Defence Forces to rejoin at the rank they left. We need you to serve your country once again

The Government also approved a framework agreement with the private hospitals. “They will operate effectively as public hospitals under Section 38 of the Health Act for the duration of the Emergency thus adding over 2,000 beds, nine laboratories, critical care capacity and thousands of staff to our health service,” said Mr Varadkar.

List of essential retailers:

  1. Retail and wholesale sale of food, beverages and newspapers in non-specialised and
    specialised stores;
  2. Retail sale of household consumer products necessary to maintain the safety and
    sanitation of residences and businesses;
  3. Pharmacies/Chemists and retailers providing pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical or
    dispensing services;
  4. Opticians/Optometrists;
  5. Retail sale of selling medical and orthopaedic goods in specialised stores;
  6. Fuel stations and heating fuel providers;
  7. Retailers involved in the repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and bicycle repair and
    related facilities (e.g. tyre sales and repairs);
  8. Retail sale of essential items for the health and welfare of animals, including animal
    feed and medicines, animal food, pet food and animal supplies including bedding;
  9. Laundries and Drycleaners;
  10. Banks, Post Offices and Credit Unions;
  11. Retail sale of safety supply stores (for e.g. work clothes, Personal Protective
    Equipment);
  12. Hardware stores, builders’ merchants and stores that provide hardware products
    necessary for home and business maintenance, sanitation and farm equipment,
    supplies and tools essential for gardening/farming/agriculture;
  13. Retail sale of office products and services for individuals working from home and for
    businesses;
  14. Retailers providing electrical, IT and phone sales, repair and maintenance services for
    home.
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CITY TRIBUNE

Redundancies are not on the cards for Galway City Council workers

Dara Bradley

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Redundancies at Galway City Council as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been ruled out by Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.

The local authority has imposed a temporary ban on recruitment, but is not planning to lay off any of its 520-strong workforce.

Mr McGrath said that down the road, if this crisis continues for a prolonged period, replacing staff who retire may not be possible. But for now, Council workers are ‘flat out’ maintaining essential services across a range of departments.

“No, we’re not planning that (lay offs). We will endeavour to keep our workforce fully employed. We’ve built up our team since the recession, a lot of our team and the additional bodies we’ve taken on are related to specific projects, for which there was various forms of grant aid available so I think we’d be confident that we will try to be able to retain the entire staff resource,” he said.

Nearly 150 members of staff have been set up to work from home, thanks to the ICT Department at City Hall.

Outdoor staff, and other office staff who must be at City Hall, are observing social distancing guidelines. Offices that used to be packed with people now have one or two workers, spaced in accordance with the guidelines.

As with the private sector, there have been changes to the ‘normal’ working week for Council staff, and some have been redeployed to other areas.

The Council has a statutory obligation to maintain essential services.

“Essential services are anything to do with homelessness; urgent housing repairs like plumbing and electrical; work on houses that were nearly complete to bring back into beneficial use and to bring back into use for self-isolation; public lighting is essential; burst water mains; maintaining traffic lights for road safety; and anything to do with water supply and waste water and treating effluent,” said Mr McGrath.

Street cleaning is classed as ‘necessary but not absolutely essential’, and is a slightly lower category than ‘essential services’.

The rota for street cleaning has been cut back to a number of times a week rather than every day, and this reflects the quieter streets due to people staying at home.

The city’s burial grounds are closed, but graves still need to be opened, and the Planning Department continues to operate.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Cancer patients will have surgeries in private hospitals

Dara Bradley

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Galway Clinic marks its tenth year as a Best Managed company in 2018.

Cancer specialists in Galway are reviewing their patient lists identifying cases that need to be prioritised for urgent surgery and biopsies.

Saolta University Health Care Group, which includes UHG and Merlin Park, has moved to reassure the public that ‘time-sensitive’ cancer cases will get the treatment they need, despite the Covid-19 crisis.

Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director with the Saolta Group, and consultant cardiologist at UHG, said talks have taken place with Galway Clinic and Bon Secours with a view to cancer surgeries of public patients proceeding at the private hospitals.

“There are many types of cancer, some of which are very time-dependant in that they need intervention very quickly to prevent any bad outcome, whereas others, the immediacy of the time isn’t necessarily going to impact on the long-term outcome.

“I can assure you, that all cases are being reviewed by consultants. Those who need treatment that is time-sensitive, where any delay could impact on outcome, will get treatment.

“Each consultant is reviewing their list and ensuring that any urgent surgery, up until now was accommodated in UHG, but we will be looking to do surgery within Galway Clinic and Bon Secours where we will have capacity and where we can start more or less immediately,” he said.

Meanwhile, cancer patients residing in a residential facility close to UHG while receiving treatment have been relocated to the Harbour Hotel to make way for those battling the Covid-19 pandemic instead.

Cancer Care West offered their 33-bedroom Inis Aoibhinn facility on hospital grounds to University Hospital Galway, which is gearing up capacity to deal with the predicted influx of patients over the coming weeks.

The Harbour Hotel in turn offered its premises free of charge to the charity to accommodate patients from across the region during their treatment.

Richard Flaherty, CEO of Cancer Care West, said staff and 28 residents had relocated to the Harbour Hotel on Monday after the hospital accepted the offer.

It will be used to accommodate staff or patients who need to be isolated close to a medical setting.

“We will continue to provide nursing care and support services onsite at the hotel to our patients.

“We also have arranged transport for the patients to and from treatment as they cannot walk as easily as before to the hospital,” he explained.

“It’s quite a logistical challenge for us, but we knew strategically how important Inis Aoibhinn would be.

“We have to pay for catering and transport but we are particularly grateful to John Lally and his team at the Harbour Hotel for their exceptional generosity for facilitating us at this difficult time.

“As an organisation we are committed to assisting in any way we can the HSE in the fight against Covid-19.”

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CITY TRIBUNE

City Council’s conference call ‘eavesdropper’

Dara Bradley

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Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column by Dara Bradley

Galway City Council, like the rest of us, is adapting to the new reality of life under Covid-19 restrictions.

There haven’t been any face-to-face City Council meetings, be they full meetings or committee meetings, since the crisis really hit.

But that doesn’t mean elected members and management are twiddling their thumbs. Far from it – they’re busier than ever, just a different sort of busy.

Last Wednesday evening, city councillors held a conference call with Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.

Members of his management team were also involved in the meeting, which was conducted using technology that allows people to ‘attend’ a meeting online from the comfort of their own homes.

Each member is invited to the virtual meeting through a link sent to their email account. They click into this and then they are ‘in’ the meeting and can speak and see the others, also attending remotely.

A reliable deep-throat who participated in Wednesday’s chat informs us that the meeting had to be stopped – at the behest of McGrath – and restarted, over fears someone was eavesdropping.

The suspicion is that the link to join the meeting was sent to someone it shouldn’t have been, and this person attempted to listen in.

“Brendan halted the meeting and we had to hang up and start again because a mystery man was listening-in on the teleconference. It was hacked but Brendan has the number and can find out who it was,” said one source.

If the standard of debate at the tele-conference was anything like some of the drivel you can get at some ordinary Council meetings, then the conference-blocked hacker didn’t miss much!

For more Bradley Bytes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune

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