Warned over financial cost of Covid restrictions, construction may reopen 5 March
The Government has been warned that the financial costs of continued restrictions are very large and that the short-term economic outlook has worsened due to the current Level 5 restrictions.
Covid-19 contingency funds could run out by the middle of the year if restrictions are only eased gradually after 5 March.
The additional costs of various income support schemes could reach €4.7bn by June, which would exhaust the Contingency Reserve and Recovery funds.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath revealed the figures at a meeting last week of the Cabinet sub-committee on Economy and Recovery.
The Minister for Social Protection has said she will be seeking an extension to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment until the summer.
Heather Humphreys said that the Government “will not be found wanting” in assisting those who are out of work.
Extending the PUP, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme to June would cost €3.7bn.
Another €300m would be incurred by extending the commercial rates waiver until then and additional demands from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment would cost €700m.
An additional €700m, previously set aside for additional health and education costs, will be required.
The committee includes Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
They were also warned of the risk of additional costs from the vaccination programme and the cost of quarantining.
The number of non-performing loans is also likely to increase, reversing a decline seen since the crash.
One positive note was that a stimulus is expected from increased consumer spending once restrictions are lifted and household savings are tapped.
The Government has also said it is working to reopen the construction sector on 5 March.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the provision of new homes is essential in his view, and there is a loss of between 700 to 800 home builds with each week the sector remains closed.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme, he said sites have shown they are able to operate safely and he is confident they can reopen on 5 March.