People with businesses need to prepare for possible closure until end of March, Tánaiste says

While Taoiseach Micheál Martin says "forget about take-away pints"

Cormac McQuinn

PEOPLE with businesses need to be prepared for the possibility that they may not reopen until the end of March, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned.

It came as he said up to 500,000 people may end up on Pandemic Unemployment Payment supports as many businesses have had to close amid tough Covid-19 restrictions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meanwhile said people should "forget about take-away pints" saying publicans should not be selling them as they can lead to gatherings that spread the virus.

The hospitality sector has been closed since Christmas Eve.

Mr Varadkar set out a timeline that would see nursing home residents, healthcare staff, very elderly people and those with chronic illness are expected to be vaccinated by the end of March.

He was asked if pubs and restaurants may need to stay closed until then.

Mr Varadkar said the timeline he described is with use of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and it could be stepped up more if the AstraZeneca one becomes available.

He said: "It's very hard to make predictions and projections.

"I think any time we do when it comes to Covid there's about a 50pc chance you're going to be proven wrong and this a virus that has torn up our plans on many occasions."

But he added: "Speaking as the minister for enterprise to people who run a business - if I was running a business now I would be thinking that it's a probability that I'll be closed until the end of March."

Later he said: "In case I put the heart across people we will review the situation on the 30th of January and make decisions on restrictions then."

However he added: "The situation is deteriorating. It is very bad. It is going to get worse in our hospitals and ICUs.

"We're not going to be out of the woods by the end of January and that's why we're putting in place the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and the weekly payment for businesses that are closed at least until the 31st of March in case things go on that long.

"I think anybody in the business community needs to be prepared for that possibility."

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