Some 340,000 people could be out of work in the retail sector by the end of this week because of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the head of a lobby group has said.
David Fitzsimons, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, predicted that 200,000 could lose their jobs this week because of restrictions linked to the virus. He said this would be in addition to 140,000 who had already lost jobs.
DublinTown, a group representing some city centre businesses, on Tuesday said footfall on the capital’s streets was 28 per cent lower during the week of March 9th to 15th than in the same week last year.
It said Grafton Street had seen a reduction of 34 per cent compared with the same week last year while footfall on O’Connell Street was 28 per cent down. South William Street, which has a large number of restaurants and pubs, had been hardest hit with consumer traffic dropping by 44 per cent.
Mr Fitzsimons called on the Government to introduce drastic measures to support retailers who have had to close because of Covid-19. He suggested that VAT and rates payments should be stopped for a period.
“We’re in a bit of a crisis at the moment,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland. “We need Government support to lead us through a period of great concern.”
He said “all non-essential retail should be shut down now” and that “we need common sense in this crisis”.
“We need our Government to support us, to lead us through a period of great concern. Let’s start planning a response to jolt our economy back in six to eight weeks...This is desperate.”
Mr Fitzsimons said he had a heart attack last year and as a result would be vulnerable so he was going into self isolation from his family for the foreseeable future.
Speaking on the same programme, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe acknowledged “the strain” retail operators and those working in “many parts” of the economy were experiencing.
He declined to say if the Government would cease seeking Vat payments from businesses but said his department was planning for a recovery and that further measures to ease pressures on people and business would follow.
“We [MUST]handle these matters in the same spirit that our public health crisis is now being handled at the moment,” the Minister said. “We have to be honest, while offering justified hope.”
Mr Donohoe added: “We can recover from this public health challenge.”
However, he cautioned that the coronavirus was expected to spread further and that “a relentless campaign over the coming weeks and months” would be needed to halt the outbreak.
The closure of pubs and limits being placed on the size of gatherings will see many hospitality businesses miss out on St Patrick’s Day, one of their busiest occasions of the year.
Dr Jack Lambert, the head of the national isolation unit at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, urged people not to have parties to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the absence of other gatherings.
He said being in the same room as someone who has the virus, but is asymptomatic, would increase its spread and this could be done as simply as by using a door handle that has been touched by an infected person.
Dr Lambert said anyone who has a cough should be tested and go into self-isolation to prevent onward spread.
He paid tribute to healthcare workers, but cautioned that in other countries it had been found that high proportions of medics had tested positive for the virus, which put vulnerable patients at risk.
Immunologist Prof Kingston Mills told Newstalk Breakfast said he was happy with the approach to containing the virus taken in Ireland so far, but that he would have liked to see travel curtailed and pubs closed sooner than they were.
He described the efforts of healthcare workers as “miraculous” and said testing should also be “cranked up” and extended to include those who are asymptomatic.