The Minister for Social Protection has acknowledged that as many as 400,000 people could lose their jobs here as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Regina Doherty said that last week the first industry her department had looked at was hospitality, where 140,000 are employed.

But she said a further 54,000 people work in accommodation and 200,000 in retail and these are just the obvious industries that will be affected.

The minister said that every single day there is another industry she did not think was going to be affected a day earlier.

So, as a result, the numbers could be as high as the more than 400,000 that some commentators are predicting, she acknowledged.

"It could be as potentially as drastic," Ms Doherty said.

"We haven't overused the word unprecedented in the last few days, but it seems to crop up in every single response we give."

She said the Government is trying to mitigate the numbers applying for the emergency payment with the employment refund scheme to try to maintain the relationship between employers and employees and retain employee rights.

Ms Doherty said the Government is going to do everything it can to ensure everyone who needs support gets it.

The minister revealed that by close of business yesterday, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection had received 58,000 individual applications for the special Covid-19 Jobseeker's Benefit.

She said that to date 43,000 of those had been processed.

Batch payments will begin tomorrow, she added, and people will start to receive money by the beginning of next week.

Ms Doherty said she recognised that not everything was perfect with the Employer Covid-19 Refund Scheme, which provides €203 per week to employers if they continue to pay their employees.

She said she was aware of criticism today that the system does not provide for some employers who want to top up payments.

Ms Doherty said her department has not exactly found out a way yet to do this, but it is working on the issue and she may have an answer this evening or tomorrow.

"We've never experienced a challenge in the Department of Social Protection like we have at the moment," the minister said.

"I know some people have likened it to what happened in 2008 and 2009. But what happened over months and months in 2009 and 2008 has happened in the last three days."

Social welfare payments to be paid per fortnight

The Government is to move to paying weekly social welfare payments on a fortnightly basis instead.

The change is to reduce the number of people attending post offices each week to collect their payments, in order to help comply with social distancing measures.

The minister said two-week payments will be paid to some social welfare schemes next week to cover the weeks of 23 and 30 March.

In the week beginning 30 March, the two-week payments will be made to the remainder of the schemes to cover the weeks of 30 March and 6 April, she added.

"So if you do continue to go to the post office, you only have to go every two weeks," she said.

Further details will be available on the department's website.

She said the only reason for the change is to reduce the number of people attending post offices each week.

Potential fraud warning from department

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has issued a warning about potential fraud by people claiming to be phoning from the department and requesting bank details.

It said: "The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection wishes to make it absolutely clear that we NEVER request bank account or other financial institution account details from its customers by phone or on social media. Nor do we clarify or check this information over the phone."

The department said that bank account information is only accepted as part of a written application for a payment, and cautioned customers and the public to keep their bank and other financial account information safe.