Ireland raises prospect of partial office working in 2021

Slideshow ( 3 images )

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland hopes to get people back to work in offices for some of the time from next year if it succeeds in curbing coronavirus cases, its finance minister Paschal Donohoe said on Thursday.

Residents in two of Ireland’s 26 counties, including the financial centre Dublin, must work from home unless absolutely necessary to attend in person under recently imposed rules.

Ireland has reopened its economy more slowly than many of its European partners and has encouraged people to work from home if possible since March. That advice remains in place for the rest of the country.

“I think we gravely underestimate the impact on our citizens of not being able to go into work. Having workplaces functioning is at the heart of how we develop skills... and this is a skills based economy,” Donohoe told a parliamentary committee.

While some offices have partly reopened since a nationwide lockdown began to be lifted in May, many have remained closed for the last six months.

Donohoe said this indirectly damaged retail and hospitality businesses such as cafes and restaurants in city centres and the government hoped to make changes if it got on top of the virus.

“As we move into 2021 I would hope we could refocus our efforts in how we can ensure that employers who are able to make their offices safe are able to facilitate some people working in them some of the time,” he said.

Ireland registered 92 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, a doubling in the rate of infection since the middle of September and the 15th highest of 31 states monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Alexander Smith