I welcome the opportunity to address the Chamber and update Deputies on the work under way in my Department to help the enterprise sector meet the business challenges presented by Covid-19. Clearly, Covid-19 has resulted in a profound impact across the economy with unprecedented speed. Figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection indicate that it had issued payments to 591,000 people in respect of their applications for the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment and 36,100 payments in receipt of Covid-19 illness benefits up to last Tuesday, 28 April. These payments are in addition to the 212,000 people on the live register on 20 April.
More than 50,000 businesses have now registered for the Government's temporary wage subsidy scheme, with more than 400,000 employees receiving payment under the scheme. These figures reflect the impact of closures across the economy, with those sectors most dependent on public footfall, such as recreation, tourism and hospitality and other service-orientated sectors, being closed. As a result of Covid-19, we have gone from a position where we had full employment just two months ago with more people at work than ever before, to a position where we now have more than 1 million people in receipt of income support of some form.
While large parts of the economy and society have ceased activities, we should remember that significant parts of our economy and business sector have continued to operate and implement the physical distancing guidelines. These sectors that continue to operate safely include the essential retail sector, from supermarkets to pharmacies, filling stations, large parts of manufacturing and financial services, ICT, energy and communications sectors, and other sectors such as transport and freight and waste management.
My Department has put a range of business supports in place, including a €450 million Covid-19 working capital scheme from the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, which supports loans from €25,000 to €1.5 million. Almost 2,000 applications have already been received under that scheme, which demonstrates the strong appetite for working capital among businesses. Loans of up to €50,000 are available for small businesses from Microfinance Ireland, with the first six months interest-free and repayment-free. As of 28 April, 321 applications had been received, and 186 of these have been approved, to a value of €5.2 million. A further 71 applications are in progress. An additional €200 million is also being made available to the future growth loan scheme for Covid-19. A €180 million sustaining enterprise fund can be accessed by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. This provides financial support of up to €800,000 for manufacturing and internationally traded services firms.
The business continuity grant of €2,500 run by local enterprise offices, LEOs, are for businesses across every sector that employ up to 50 people. There have been almost 3,000 applications for that scheme to date, and it is proving very popular with small businesses. Grant aid of up to €5,000 is now available through LEOs to help businesses get online and continue trading during the Covid-19 emergency. Additionally, a new €2 million online retail scheme is open to retailers employing more than ten people to support companies in the indigenous retail sector. Grants of between €10,000 and €40,000 are available under that scheme. A Covid-19 business financial planning grant of €5,000 is available through Enterprise Ireland to help companies develop a robust financial plan. A new lean business continuity grant of €2,500 is available for training or advisory services supports related to the continued operation of businesses during this pandemic. It is open to small, medium or large client companies of Enterprise Ireland or Údarás na Gaeltachta.
In addition to these new supports, it is also important to remember the full range of existing Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, LEO and Údarás na Gaeltachta grant and advisory supports that continue to be available to businesses. As I mentioned earlier, the wage subsidy scheme has proven very successful and in excess of 50,000 businesses have registered, with more than 400,000 employees receiving payment under the scheme. That is 400,000 more people staying connected with their employer and who are still in a job. I have engaged with business representative groups on the scheme and I know there were some anomalies at the start. In fairness, the Revenue Commissioners have demonstrated great flexibility in listening, and responding, to those concerns. It does not matter if a business is open or closed. As long as the business can demonstrate a 25% impact in the form of reduction in turnover, the company is eligible to apply for the scheme.
It is important to remember as well that the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment of €350 is also available to the self-employed. That is important, as with some small businesses where the wage subsidy scheme may not have been suitable, the pandemic unemployment payment has been a vital support.
It is sometimes hard to believe that Covid-19 has only been with us for two months. The world has changed and the economic landscape in Ireland has utterly changed. We have put a number of supports in place to help businesses deal with the initial shock of Covid-19; there is no doubt that more will be needed. As a Minister, I want to ensure businesses are supported throughout this crisis. As I have said previously, it is about providing the right supports at the right time. As a Government, we will continue to develop and adapt our suite of supports as the situation develops. I am working with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and colleagues across government on the next stage of our response for businesses.
Turning to the question of relaxing restrictions, the Government has made it clear that the number one imperative is to ensure public health. We are dealing with a deadly virus so the relaxation of restrictions must be carried out in line with public health guidance and be prudently introduced on a phased basis over time. We must ensure safe practices backed up by guidance and, where necessary, enforcement. We have seen businesses quickly change their practices and contactless delivery is an example of this.
Businesses can adjust in a safe way provided there is rigorous adherence to public health guidelines. I thank all those in these sectors for the sacrifices they make every day to sustain essential services and for their rigorous adherence to physical distancing guidelines.
That is why I and my Department are focusing specifically on helping businesses to understand what physical distancing in the workplace involves. We have worked with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, an agency within my Department, and the HSE to produce two protocols and guides for manufacturing industry and the retail sector on workplace protection and improvement. These guides set out a range of measures, including staggering of start times and shift work. I encourage all businesses, regardless of whether they are open, to familiarise themselves with these protocols.
All employers have obligations to their staff and to the public to ensure that all necessary measures are being taken to adhere to the public health advice and recommendations in their workplaces. The Health and Safety Authority under my Department is working closely with the Department of Health and the HSE to set out clear Covid-19 specific guidance for safe workplaces, which all businesses must adhere to when they are allowed to reopen. I expect these to be available shortly. These will be backed up not only by further advice at sectoral level over time but also through inspections and enforcement using the full suite of resources available across the State. If a company or an employee has a question, the Health and Safety Authority already offers advice and support and can be contacted in this regard.
I know the question of when we can begin to lift the current restrictions and start getting things back to normal is on the minds of many people and to the fore for many business owners and leaders throughout the country. As the Taoiseach has said, the Government continues to consider the broad range of public health, societal and economic impacts and options for lifting the current restrictions. I stress that the unwinding of restrictions will need to be gradual and proceed over a number of months. I assure workers and employers that the Government is committed to ensuring that as the economy reopens, we will do everything we reasonably can to save those businesses that are viable. As we unwind restrictions, we must do so in a way that supports our longer-term economic prospects. Sectoral issues are being worked on at official level across relevant Departments. We must also be mindful of the need to focus on economic recovery, an issue I expect to be to the fore of any new Government's agenda.
These are difficult and unprecedented days for businesses in Ireland. The recovery task ahead of us is monumental, but it is because of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit we have in Ireland that we have reason to be positive. Absolute Nutrition, a small food company in Rathcoole, has increased its sales by over 200% through online sales since the first case of Covid-19. Gunpowder Gin in Drumshanbo, a household name, is now making hand sanitiser. Yesterday I was at the Combilift facility in my county of Monaghan. That company has come up with a unique device that can split ventilators. That ability of businesses to respond and adapt will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead. I am determined that we will continue to support businesses and ensure that as many people as possible will have jobs to return to with employers who have businesses that will succeed in the future.
We need to remember that we had a strong economy before the pandemic. We must now do everything in our power to ensure we have a strong economy after the pandemic. I look forward to hearing Deputies' views on this.