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Imperative to avoid second lockdown ‘if possible’ – Varadkar

ánaiste Leo Varadkar has said Ireland may be close to the level “at which we can live with the virus”.

He said the overriding imperative right now is to keep the virus suppressed to avoid “if possible” a second lockdown. 

The Tánaiste made his remarks at the Dublin Economics Workshop this afternoon. 

He said he did not believe the impact of the coronavirus on the economy could be summed up in “a single hit hypothesis” like a V-shape or K-shaped recovery as he thinks there will be “multiple hits” and it was more akin to an ongoing war.

The Fine Gael leader added that people should not assume that it will be another 100 years before the next pandemic hits, and that he believes things will never be the same again. 

He said one of the most important objectives for Government was to maintain social solidarity, particularly with people in industries like entertainment, conferencing and aviation which have been worse hit by the pandemic.

Mr Varadkar said the forthcoming Budget will need to focus on those industries.  

The Tánaiste also said he would like to see a permanent wage subsidy scheme created as part of a strengthened social security system.

This would be more like social security systems in Europe and would also include better sick pay entitlements.

He said this would need to be paid for with higher rates of PRSI. Mr Varadkar told the online audience that this was “hinted at” in the Programme for Government so he was “not going off message.”

Mr Varadkar also said he was looking forward to implementing a “living wage” during the lifetime of this Government. 

On insurance costs, the Tánaiste admitted that “…the last government did not succeed on insurance.”

He said he was now chair of a Cabinet committee set up to deal with insurance costs which he hoped will “make a real difference” and “bite the bullet” on passing some new legislation to deal with the issue. 

The conference also heard from ECB Chief Economist Philip Lane and National Competiveness Council Chair Professor Frances Ruane.

Philip Lane described the rebound in eurozone economies this summer as “a mechanical rebound” and that the recovery is far from complete.

He described a “massive degree of nervousness” among households over spending, which is reflected in much higher than normal savings rates. 

Prof Ruane pointed to five longstanding issues where Ireland’s costs have been out of kilter for a long time.

They are insurance costs, credit, legal costs, housing costs and childcare costs, she said. 

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