Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that today is "a day of freedom" as society partially reopens and people can travel freely across the country.

Mr Varadkar said the public can begin to meet their friends and family again and he welcomed the return of religious services.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said 12,000 businesses are set to reopen this week and 100,000 people will go back to work.

Mr Varadkar said that existing financial support for business will remain in place until the end of June and further clarity will be given later this month on what will happen thereafter.

Arnotts in Dublin city centre is among 12,000 businesses reopening this week

He said "this can't go on forever" and while Government support will be phased out over time, any changes will be graduated and distinguish between those suffering the most.

Mr Varadkar said the wage subsidy scheme will stay in place for some time, but the levels at which a company qualifies for it may change.

Any changes to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment would be made in a cautious manner as it will take time for self-employed people to build up cash reserves, the Tánaiste added.

He said that the Government will continue to support the business community financially to give them a chance to bounce back after a very difficult year of trading.

Mr Varadkar said that decisions around what commercial rates will apply for the third quarter and tax warehousing are being examined.

He stated that the VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sector will stay at 9% until the end of the year and possibly into 2022.

Mr Varadkar added that while the Government thinks there will be an initial boom in consumer spending, that could trail off in autumn when businesses could get into trouble.


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He said the Government is looking to introduce a fast-track system to restructure business to help those in difficulty to survive.

Mr Varadkar said that Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise Robert Troy is looking at how to introduce a new examinership process.

This would avoid the High Court and help many businesses to survive through restructuring, he added.

"Retail was changing anyway, it was going online... and the pandemic has accelerated that," he said.

Mr Varadkar commented that there will be "less bricks and mortar" and he has held discussions with the Mandate trade union about the need for training and transition funds for retail workers who may lose their jobs.

He also thanked the public for all their efforts in tackling the pandemic and the HSE for their hard work with the vaccination programme.

Discussing antigen testing, he said the Government supports the wider use of antigen testing and sees it as "an additional health and safety measure" but said it is not a substitute for other health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

Mr Varadkar said pilot schemes are being rolled out in schools and universities and that businesses will be given clear guidance on how to use the testing in the coming week.

He said these could be very important in helping students get back on campus in September and October.

Mr Varadkar added "it means nothing" if someone uses a store-bought test and the result is negative and said it certainly does not mean "visit your relatives and it's all fine".

He said the two-millionth dose of a Covid-19 vaccine will be delivered this week and that around 250,000 people will receive a vaccine.

Mr Varadkar said it would be logical to allow the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be used in the under-50s, if there was an excess of vaccines that were going unused.

If Ireland got to a point where there are surplus vaccines, the country should be willing to donate those to countries in need, the Tánaiste added.

It would be an important gesture in solidarity, he said, and also in everyone's interest because no one is safe until Covid-19 is under control globally.