There was an air of renewed, but guarded optimism, throughout Longford on Monday as phase one of the reopening of the Irish economy got underway.
Longford Chamber of Commerce President Niamh Donlon explained that while it was pleasing to see some businesses returning to trade this week, she cautioned that ‘it will be a long and slow recovery’.
Ms Donlon added, “It is important that every possible support and aid is made available to businesses, especially in retail and hospitality as they likely face the steepest curve.”
A ‘Covid-19 Regional Economic Analysis’ study, compiled by the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland, starkly suggests that Longford will fare a lot worse economically than most parts of the country.
The county possesses the 8th highest exposure ratio (50%) in the country, while Edgeworthstown, with a 56.7% exposure ratio, is ranked 13th of the Top 15 towns exposed to significant economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
The national average for towns is 46% and Longford has three towns above that figure - Longford town 47.7%, Ballymahon 51% and Edgeworthstown.
The Chamber President pointed out that detail of the Business Restart Scheme is slowly becoming available and she expressed concern that many businesses might not be able to access this fund.
Ms Donlon remarked, “It is important that we see a commitment to hold off on commercial rates for the rest of 2020 for affected businesses and the return of the hospitality VAT rate of 9% would be a help also.
“Any businesses slowly returning will be availing of the wage subsidy scheme and realistically these businesses will be dependent on that support for many months to come.”
As the phase one easing of Covid-19 restrictions got underway, David Fitzsimons, Group Chief Executive, Retail Excellence Ireland said: “Monday was a very welcome day and marks the first steps on the road to recovery.”
Mr Fitzsimons highlighted that Irish retailers are ingenious and resourceful and they invested great effort in planning to ensure they opened safely for their customers and colleagues.
He urged Longford consumers to support ‘local’.
"As consumers come out of hibernation to purchase non-essential items, we remind everyone of the importance of our local independent stores. Please use them as we don’t want to lose them,” stressed Mr Fitzsimons.
Retail Excellence has called for the following Government to launch the following urgent measures:
* A commercial rent grant equivalent to 60% of the rent payable during the period of emergency
* A 12 months local authority rates waiver
* 0% loans for all impacted business and a Covid-19 compensation scheme
Longford Chamber President Ms Donlon also reinforced and supported the message of shopping locally.
She commented, “The public in Co Longford have played a key role in the battle against Covid-19. The next battle will be rebuilding towns and communities and now more than ever it will be critical that we shop, eat and spend again in Longford as soon as it’s safe to do so again.”
According to the county by county case breakdown for confirmed figures of Covid-19 published on Monday by the Health Surveillance Monitoring Unit , Longford has 279 cases.
HSE Midlands Louth Meath and Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, Chief Health Officer, Pat Bennett, said it has been a very intense three months responding to this fast moving pandemic and all of the changing requirements which evolved during that time.
And referring to the easing of some restrictions, Mr Bennett was at pains to remind the public, “This deadly virus is still with us and we all have a duty of care to protect our loved ones.
“This will prove challenging for all involved. Engagement with HSE staff and learning from the Covid-19 response will obviously feed into this process as will new working guidelines, telemedicine, technology, public health advice and the good will of all involved.”