Ireland’s lockdowns drive spike in unemployment and savings – dpa international

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A car park in a shopping area in the town of Castlebar in the west of Ireland, shortly after the early  December end of the country's second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

A car park in a shopping area in the town of Castlebar in the west of Ireland, shortly after the early December end of the country’s second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland stayed above 20 per cent in December, official statistics released on Wednesday show, as the country continues to reel from the economic impact of coronavirus-related restrictions.

According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the December rate, adjusted to include those receiving pandemic-related unemployment payments, was 20.4 per cent, a slight improvement on November’s 21 per cent.

The CSO’s Catalina Gonzalez said “the Covid-19 crisis” is having “a significant impact on the labour market.”

Around 7 per cent of Ireland’s population would be classed as jobless if pandemic-related layoffs, some of which could prove temporary, were omitted, according to the CSO.

Irish revenue officials said on Wednesday that some of the hundreds of thousands of pandemic-related recipients will face tax bills for the payments, one day after the Department of Finance projected a 19-billion-euros budget deficit for 2020.

In April, during Ireland’s first lockdown, the pandemic-adjusted unemployment rate shot up to a record 28.2 per cent.

January unemployment numbers will likely increase after Ireland announced another national lockdown shortly before Christmas, with people told to remain within 5 kilometers of their homes and many businesses forced to close for a third time since the pandemic started. Ireland’s second lockdown ran for six weeks until early December.

The lockdowns have spurred record savings, according to Ireland’s Central Bank, which on Wednesday reported household bank deposits topping 124 billion euros in November, after restrictions “continued to diminish individuals’ opportunity and willingness to spend, and likely induced further precautionary savings.”

Ireland’s curbs have been among the longest-running and most far-reaching in Europe, frequently topping a University of Oxford index measuring the stringency of government responses to the pandemic.

On-off restrictions failed to stave off a “third wave” of novel coronavirus nfections, with a daily record 6,110 new positive test results announced on Monday by Ireland’s Department of Health.

On Wednesday morning, 921 people were in hospitals across the country  after testing positive for the virus, according to the department. The official related death toll stood at 2,282.

Despite the pandemic and related curbs, Ireland’s economy could have expanded in 2020, with the state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in December projecting 3.4 per cent gross domestic product growth, which it said is largely “a result of the strong export performance.”

Ireland hosts dozens of foreign multinational corporations in sectors that thrived since the start of the pandemic, such as medical, pharmaceutical and internet-related.

Ireland’s 2021 growth prospects were improved by the December 24 agreeing of a deal between Britain and the European Union that averted the so-called “hard Brexit” that would have left signifcant trade barriers between Ireland’s nearest neighbour and the EU, of which Ireland is a member-state.

Published Monday, the Allied Irish Banks/IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index for December, a survey of around 250 local manufacturers, said that “new orders and output both rose at the fastest rates since July’s post-lockdown bounce, and purchasing accelerated as firms sought to expand inventories to guard against a potential hard Brexit.”

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