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Ireland sees sharp rise in COVID-19 jobless claims if curbs tightened

DUBLIN, Oct 13 (Reuters) - The number of people claiming temporary Irish jobless benefits will increase by up to 115,000 if the government imposes stricter COVID-19 restrictions across the country, the public expenditure department forecast on Tuesday.

Ireland last week shut indoor restaurant and pub service for at least three weeks when it moved all counties up to Level 3 of the five-step confinement plan. That resulted in a rise in Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) recipients to 228,858 from 205,593 seven days earlier.

The increase was in the middle of the range forecast by the public expenditure department for Level 3 measures. It projected 100,000 to 115,000 extra people would claim the payment if Level 4 curbs were imposed, closing all but essential retail.

Level 5 restrictions, which would ban outdoor retail and dining, would result in 140,000 to 167,000 extra claimants compared to the current number of recipients.

Ireland introduced the PUP in March for those laid off as a result of the pandemic. Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said on Tuesday that the government would review next year whether it needed to be extended beyond the current cut-off of April 2021.

PUP claims hit a lockdown peak of 600,000 in early May and a slowdown in those returning to work before the re-imposition of restrictions has kept the unemployment rate, including those on the emergency payment, stuck at around 15%.

Ireland’s health chiefs will meet on Thursday to provide updated advice to government. Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said on Saturday that he was “very worried about the numbers we are seeing and how quickly they are deteriorating.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Lisa Shumaker