Initial shoots of optimism dotted the local community landscape on Monday morning as the first phase of the roadmap to recovery and the reopening of society and businesses commenced.
The tentative steps of a five phase plan have now been taken as the local economy aspires towards a return to growth, numerous businesses opening their social distance enhanced premises to welcome customers as proprietors adapt relevant measures to maintain a presence within the community.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Mr. John McGrath, President, Athlone Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted a prevalent air of caution amongst members of the local business community as they prepared to reopen on Monday.
“There is obvious concern with regard to the footfall on our streets amongst those members of the local business community who have reopened this week with a certain feeling of fear that trade would not be sufficient to warrant an economic case for reopening.
“Larger businesses, such as the multiples, are more likely to be able to sustain the relevant costs. However, for numerous small businesses on our main streets the reality of covering costs and paying salaries is the overriding concern,” Mr. McGrath remarked.
Athlone Chamber of Commerce and Industry are assisting businesses as they commence the reopening process with the provision of perspex screening, supplied by Athlone Extrusion, available to those in most need.
“It is great to be able to help the local businesses community at this time and we are delighted to partner with Athlone Chamber in the distribution of perspex screening to those in need and where practical,” Kenny O’Brien, Athlone Extrusions, commented.
Confidence must be afforded to small and medium sized local enterprises in the coming weeks to enable such businesses to reopen and economically progress.
“Further assistance is required for our small and medium sized local enterprises. The Restart Grant for which businesses can apply is an important scheme to utilise and Athlone Chamber will assist members who apply for relevant funding. The Grant will provide assistance with the associated costs of reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures and is linked to the business rates bill in 2019. Applications can be made from Friday of this week,” Mr. McGrath emphasised.
Athlone Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, Mr. Gerry McInerney, stressed the need for an increase in support to provide the Midlands region with the economic stimulus required to revitalise businesses.
“The national Regional Assemblies in Ireland conducted an extensive study on the impact of COVID-19 in recent times with Westmeath and the Midlands region featuring prominently with regard to the number of businesses detrimentally impacted by the virus.
“There is a lot of work to be done and Athlone Chamber are working with its members to maximise the benefit of the assistance provided to date and what further measures the Government could implement to aid businesses that are clearly struggling during this time,” Mr. McInerney stated.
Welcoming “a new dawn”, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, noted optimism as businesses permitted to reopen under phase one on the roadmap to recovery commenced trade on Monday morning.
“There is an air of optimism as numerous local businesses return to operational mode. The future is in our hands and how we behave as restrictions are lifted.
“I commend those who choose to wear face coverings while in retail outlets and I believe that there is a genuine feeling of relief and optimism that we, as a country, are fully suppressing this virus.
“We must understand that it will be a long time before we can go back to where we were, if such circumstance ever returns.
“We have to continue to adapt to the new norm of abiding by public health guidelines at all times. It is only by doing this can we delay the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccination can be found.
“I am hopeful that we can progress to lifting restrictions for those businesses under tier two but that is the responsibility of local communities,” Cllr. Keena asserted.
Meanwhile, as public presence within the local community increases with customer activity in reopened businesses escalating, Sergeant Andrew Haran, Athlone Garda Station, has implored the need to maintain social distancing measures as phase one of the roadmap to recovery progresses.
“We have had a presence in a number of retail outlets as they reopened for business on Monday. We are here to support our local retailers and would urge customers to remain patient and practice social distancing measures as they shop,” Sergeant Haran asserted.
Roadmap to Recovery Phase One Key Features
•Employees must continue to work from home if they are doing so presently.
•The 5km limit applies to outdoor exercise, social and amenity visits with small groupings of four persons (family or friends ) now permitted.
•Older and vulnerable persons who are cocooning should remain indoors, apart from brief outdoor exercise.
•Members of the public are recommended to wear face coverings in public places.
•Construction workers and gardeners, where it is safe to do so, return to work.
•Certain essential retailers and service providers may reopen (further details available on gov.ie/phase1 ).
•Garden Centres and retail outlets that are primarily outdoor in nature reopen.
•Outdoor public amenities and tourism sites reopen.
•Outdoor public sports amenities (golf, tennis ) reopen.
The public MUST bear in mind that the social distancing two metre rule will remain in place as the country continues the reopening process.