The cabinet has agreed that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) should continue at current levels until March 31.

The four current rates of PUP ranging from €203 to €350 depending on the claimant's pre-pandemic earnings had been due to reduce on February 1.

They were to merge into two - €203 for those who earned less than €300 before the pandemic, and €250 whose pre-Covid earnings exceeded €300.

However, speaking at a press conference this evening at which additional Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions were announced, the Tanaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed that the cabinet had today decided to keep the rates unchanged until at least March 31.

Mr Varadkar said it is estimated that by the end of the month, between 450,000 and 500,000 people could be claiming the PUP.

There were 335,600 PUP claims paid yesterday by the state.

Over €5bn has been paid out through the PUP since March of last year and the Government has this evening reminded people that it remains open to new entrants.

The Government also said that the Employment Wage Support Scheme (EWSS) rates will also remain unchanged until the end of March.

The EWSS provides a payment of up to €350 per week as a subsidy to qualifying employers to offset payroll costs. 

This payment level had been scheduled to fall from February 1, but will now remain in place.

"This will ensure continued support for both employers and workers who lose their jobs due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions," the Government said in a statement.

Since its introduction in September last year, over €1.5bn in support has been provided under the EWSS.

The estimated cost of not reducing the EWSS is an additional €38 million per week, or an additional €323 million in total by the end of March 2021, the Department of Finance said.

The Government also confirmed that businesses forced to close under the Level 5 restrictions will be entitled to claim the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS).

Other additional supports for businesses including tax warehousing arrangements, reduced VAT rates, a commercial rates waiver and a wide range of reduced cost loans, grants and voucher schemes all remain in place.

Mr Varadkar also said the government is engaging with the banks to "ensure that they provide additional payment breaks to mortgage holders and people who have loans, who cannot afford to meet those payments as a result of the Covid crisis."

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