Following a meeting of Chambers Chief Executives this morning, Chambers Ireland expresses concern at new advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team that the entire country should move to Level 5.
Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said,
“This latest announcement will come as a shock to businesses and local economies throughout the country, who have been doing their best to adjust to the new reality of living alongside the threat of Covid-19.
Our members have many questions regarding the new advice. How has it arisen that only a few weeks after the publication of the “Living with COVID” strategy, we now find ourselves in a situation where we are jumping multiple levels overnight?
The goal of the Roadmap, as we had understood it, was to give society as well as the business community, a clearer idea of how Government would respond to a rise, or indeed a decrease in cases. The message from NPHET, and the lack of communication from Government, is causing a significant amount of concern.
We understand the challenges of managing Covid-19, and as a representative body, we aim to support Government in addressing this crisis. However, in the absence of clarity and data on the spread of the virus and the capacity of the system, we are unable to provide information to our members, and ensure that the required solidarity and compliance will be in place. Government must also improve the process of communication between NPHET, Cabinet, and the Covid-19 Oversight Committee, to ensure the public, especially the business community, is receiving clear information and guidance.
The current approach of regularly introducing new restrictions is not sustainable in the long-term. And so, Government must rapidly evolve its thinking in how it plans to supress the virus while living alongside it. The medical and scientific advice tells us that the best way to manage the latest outbreak is to effectively lock down most of society, flatten the curve and reduce the worst impacts of the virus by protecting people and saving lives.
Our question to Government is that if a new lockdown is necessary, what will follow? How will the strategy for living alongside the virus be altered so that we do not find ourselves in a new wave of restrictions and closures every time we ease measures?
The State’s highest priority at present needs to be assigning sufficient resources to our hospital capacity and ensure that contact tracing and testing becomes effective at limiting the spread of this disease. It is only with better enforcement and intelligence that public health officials will be able to track the virus and stop it spreading. The alternative will be repeated local restrictions across the country, the costs of which will be devastating to the economy. We must endeavour to do all that we can to avoid such an outcome.
The long-term impact of the repeated introduction of new restrictions cannot be under-stated, Businesses have been devastated over the past 6 months, with many now facing much reduced liquidity, and much higher debts.
The re-imposition of restrictions be they Level Three, Four or Five, must be accompanied with a targeted package of financial supports for the businesses and employees impacted. At this point, we have no clarity from Government what financial supports they intend to make available to businesses across the country to support them.
This must be clarified urgently and must include wage supports, grants and other liquidity supports. Forbearance and flexibility from State agencies, banks and landlords must also continue to play a significant role in how we support the business community and our wider society. It is in nobody’s interest to see liquidations, business closures and increased vacancies in towns and cities throughout the country.
We re-iterate our message that the risk of under-reacting is much greater than over-reacting. Government must use every available resource to tackle the spread of the virus and support local economies to withstand the impact. We call for information and clarity from coalition leaders immediately.