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Irish wage subsidy recipients little changed despite COVID-19 clampdown

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The number of Irish workers whose wages are being subsidised by the state was little changed in October compared with September, even though COVID-19 restrictions were ramped up throughout the month.

FILE PHOTO: A man affixes a Christmas tree to the exterior of a restaurant that shuttered due to the government's highest level of lockdown restrictions, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Galway, Ireland, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Ireland tightened curbs to slow the spread of the coronavirus in mid-September, when indoor restaurant and bar service was banned in Dublin, a measure rolled out across the country on Oct. 5.

The government shut non-essential retail, limited pubs and restaurants to takeaway and told people not to travel more than five kilometres from their home for six weeks from Oct. 21.

The additional constraints did little to change the use of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), with the pay of 345,400 topped up last month compared with 345,500 in September, data from the finance ministry and tax authority showed.

An increase in the subsidy introduced when the country moved to the top Level 5 restrictions in late October meant the cost to the state rose to 358 million euros from 258 million in September.

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While the number of people who have instead been temporary laid off and are claiming the separate Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) has risen to around 340,000 from 245,000 before the Level 5 lockdown, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe noted in a statement that this is lower than was projected.

The government had estimated that 150,000 people would be temporarily laid off due to the tighter restrictions.

PUP claimants reached a peak of 600,000 in April during the first, wider lockdown, during which the government was subsidising the wages of as many as 450,000 employees.

The finance ministry also said 6,100 companies have registered 6,400 premises for a more generous grant scheme introduced last month, with a further 1,800 applications being processed.

Under the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, each premises can claim 5,000 euros per week if they are severely affected by the constraints that have slowed the spread of COVID-19.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Larry King