Following an online meeting of Chambers Ireland and CEOs from across the network earlier today (19 October 2020), Chamber leaders call on Government to ensure rapid delivery of supports for businesses impacted by this new wave of restrictions. Government must also ensure these restrictions serve their purpose in reducing spread of COVID-19. This time must be used wisely over the coming weeks to ensure the appropriate infrastructure is in place to support local economies to re-open safely and avoid succumbing to new closures into the new year.
Speaking this evening, Emma Dunphy, Operations Manager of County Wexford Chamber said:
“It is desperately sad and frustrating that we find ourselves shuttering our country again in the face of this rising wave of Covid-19 cases. Firstly, out thoughts are with those who are directly affected – those who are sick, those who are treating the afflicted, and those who are recovering their own health. And then there are the people who Covid-19 impacts indirectly – those whose medical treatments have been cancelled in the face of the demands that this surge is placing upon our healthcare system, those who are isolated because of social distancing measures, and those that are losing their livelihoods.
Along with the direct impact on the health of the nation, it is our domestic economy that continues to bear the brunt of the economic impact of Covid-19. Today’s news of further restrictions will be devastating for many people. However, we must look forward. As we have been through the experience of restrictions before, we now know better what needs to be done.
We know that early action limits the consequences of Covid-19. Delaying action only exacerbates the problems we encounter, which makes overcoming a greater challenge in the long run. Throughout this crisis Chambers Ireland has consistently argued that under-reaction, and delayed reaction, are greater threats to our security and our collective welfare than over-reaction. Supports for businesses must be implemented with even greater urgency than they were in the first wave
If these supports are to be effective at maintaining employment they need to be of immediate benefit to the affected businesses. The time for mentoring and vouchers to be considered as solutions has passed. The Covid-19 Restriction Support Scheme must also be made available immediately, or we will see huge numbers, particularly from the retail sector, laid off in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Wage supports for employees and the self-employed will need to be increased if businesses are to be able to continue through the restriction period. Extensions to CRO and Revenue filing deadlines should also be considered.
Decisions need to be made in collaboration with the affected parties and followed up with immediate action. Too often during this crisis, initial policy responses had to be reviewed and amended as problems with them became apparent. This has delayed their implementation and reduced their efficacy.
Collaboration also needs to be improved with Northern Ireland and along the border counties to ensure that the policy response on both sides is measured. It is critical that divergent policy responses do not incentivise non-essential travel or commerce.
Uncertainty is devastating for businesses owners and operators who are already reeling from the blows that the Covid-19 shocks have dealt their businesses, the drip-drip of leaked communications is undermining businesses, and confidence, at a national level. There needs to be clarity from government about the economic environment that businesses will be operating in once the restrictions are eased.
Finally, a credible exit strategy needs to be developed by Government on how we are to avoid successive waves of opening and closing the economy. Chambers Ireland has warned that the worst-case scenario for the economy would be to enter a series of sawtooth lockdowns and re-openings due to the significant costs associated with reopening and restocking businesses. With limited capital reserves, and no appetite for new debt under such uncertainty, many businesses may not be able to reopen after this new round of closures.
Therefore, beyond dealing with the immediate threat of growing Covid-19 numbers, Government must ensure that as we exit this second wave, sufficient dedicated resources will be made available to the public health authorities to create an effective track and trace programme that will have the capacity needed to conduct aggressive backwards tracing of new cases, coupled with local interventions to limit the impact of future outbreaks, and the development of capacity within the health service to cope with increased demands on our critical care services.
We must use our time wisely, we have not avoided a second wave, but we must do all that we can to avoid a third. For employers, this means interpreting the restrictions conservatively rather than looking for loopholes. If people can work from home, then that is the only place they should be working from. Employers must continue to do what they can to support their employees to work remotely.
If we are to have any chance at salvaging the Christmas season for local economies across the country, we must act collectively, taking responsibility both for ourselves and our businesses. If compliance is not strong, if contacts are not minimised, these restrictions may not thaw until Spring.”