Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Lives decimated as businesses close and job losses rocket

On Friday Prime Minister Boris Johnston ordered the closure of all pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and gyms in a bid to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Many here had already done so, of course, with the scene across the district on Tuesday more akin to Christmas Day than St. Patrick’s Day.

As business after business across the hospitality sector, retail and beauty industries shut their doors, owners took to social media to voice their heartbreak.  Some have vowed to come back stronger than ever but for others the reality is altogether more sobering.

In response to the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has announced a raft of measures to help prevent massive job losses and is urging employers to retain their staff. 

In an unprecedented move on Friday afternoon, the government promised to pay 80% of salaries, up to a limit of £2,500 per month, for staff who are kept on by their employer.

Described as a “landmark” pledge, the move has offered some relief to many businesses whose revenue has been decimated leaving them unable to pay staff wages.

The government intervention means some workers should be able to keep their jobs, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them and will have “significant impact” on struggling businesses, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said.

The move should be particularly helpful to the hundreds of businesses who have had to close to the public, bringing their revenue stream to an abrupt end, and leaving thousands of workers in immediate financial stress.

Earlier in the week, financial help for businesses was announced in the form of rates relief for the next three months, while household rates bills are deferred from April until June.

On the flip side, a number of businesses, particularly supermarkets and pharmacies, are experiencing an increase in customers and some supermarket chains have launched recruitment drives to help cope with the rise in demand.  Tesco, Iceland and Aldi are among those seeking to hire immediately, with most offering short 4-6 week contracts, while locally Casey’s Eurospar in Crossmaglen is also recruiting.

Meanwhile, local shops and supermarkets are taking stringent measures to help keep their staff and customers safe in-store.  Among others, Hughes in Camlough, Mulkern’s Eurospar at Cloughoge and Fiveways, Newry have erected Perspex shields at counter pay points and customers are being instructed to observe the strict social distancing measures while in the stores.  Stores are also restricting the number of people on the premises at the same time and customers are being asked to observe instructions limiting the number of products they can purchase to avoid stockpiling.

With the list of closed shops and salons lengthening by the day, more and more people are thankfully adhering to Public Health Agency (PHA) advice to stay at home, only travel when necessary and rely instead on telephone or online facilities.

Insisting the move will save lives, Dr Hugo Van Woerden, Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to practise social distancing as a key step in saving lives. The guidance to socially distance ourselves from others applies to everyone. We should all be taking steps to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

“Every one of us has a role to play in this battle.”

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