The chief executive of the employers’ group Ibec has written to the Government to outline what the organisation sees as the key priorities for the reopening of the economy.
In the letter sent to the Taoiseach and other ministers, Danny McCoy said Ibec thinks the priorities strike the correct balance between the ongoing public health risks and the need to address the escalating economic crisis along with other societal issues.
“It is clear that the understanding, and indeed credibility, of the Five Levels set out in the Covid Framework need to be reset to reflect the situation of summer 2021, not the conditions encountered last summer when originally devised,” he wrote.
“Keeping businesses in Level 5, when circumstances have considerably improved, is both undermining confidence and the sense of equity as society moves ahead of the guidance.”
Mr McCoy said it is now vital that the Government adjusts the Covid reopening plan significantly in order to reflect the risk reduction which the vaccine programme is delivering and also to provide safe and controlled environments for both social and economic activity.
As part of this week’s review by Cabinet, Ibec wants more businesses to be allowed to open from 4 May including all construction, personal services and all aspects of retail.
“The change in season for clothing and footwear demand also requires that retailers should be given the opportunity to trade equally with other jurisdictions and retail channels,” Mr McCoy said.
Ibec is also looking for support for the return of outdoor hospitality with preparation time begun immediately for opening up early May.
“Vague sentiments about the summer will be outdoors is not a plan,” he said.
“Businesses in the hospitality economy need dates and trigger points in moving to phased openings to plan and retain hope of saving their enterprises.”
Clarity should also be provided for businesses on the reopening timetable for the coming months, Ibec argues, in order to assist the 330,000 people in the experience economy to return to work.
“This includes a return to inter county travel by the start of June,” the letter stated.
It is also seeking that material steps be taken to address mental health risks for those working from home by supporting a partial and gradual return to the office to reduce the most acute isolation.
“Many of our members are reporting employee mental health issues as the single biggest challenge facing their organisations,” Mr McCoy wrote.
“Younger workers, in particular, are suffering significant mental health issues which will have long-term implications for society and the public health system.”
The significant constraints emerging in relation to public transport must also be tackled, Mr McCoy said, with an increase in the capacity limit to 50% from the start of May.
Mr McCoy also raised again the issue of exemptions for subject matter expert workers from mandatory hotel quarantine.
“Our members are reporting significant challenges in acquiring essential repair and maintenance skills from overseas,” he said.
Clearer communication on the link between the vaccination milestones and the reopening of the remaining sectors of the economy is also sought by Ibec.
In addition, he told Morning Ireland that a plan must reflect the economic crisis and the crisis of peoples’ mental health because the tensions associated with home working are rising while many businesses are going under.
The abundance of caution on one side, he said, has an economic cost on the other.