Businesses try and stay afloat in health crisis
The unprecedented health crisis caused by coronavirus hit Alsager this week, the situation changing so rapidly it was impossible to keep up.
The impact of coronavirus has already hit on some local businesses, with many — including the Chronicle, a small local business that employs 20 people — facing the future with fear and uncertainty.
Some are comparing it to the Spanish flu of 1918, but while Spanish flu killed more local people than will coronavirus, business largely carried on as normal.
The official figure for cases in Cheshire East was seven as the Chronicle went to press but this is only the cases the health service knows about and is likely to be a huge under-estimate of the real total.
The effects suffered by the Chronicle are undoubtedly typical. We have one member of staff who has a close family member who has tested positive for coronavirus.
She said: “I’m more worried about my elderly relatives than myself given how fast the virus appears to be spreading. It’s the effect on my grandparents and people who I work with who are vulnerable.”
Several staff are self-isolating because they have coughs. One member of staff is self-isolating because his children have illnesses with symptoms of coronavirus. We also have two members of staff self-isolating because of medical conditions.
Two people have died from the virus in Cheshire East so far, both in Leighton Hospital and both with underlying health conditions. It is not known if they are local.
Commenting on the deaths, Dr Matt Tyrer, acting director of public health at Cheshire East Council, expressed condolences to the families concerned and said: “Cheshire East Council has been made aware of a case of Covid-19 within the borough and is working with partners.
“We are in regular contact with Public Health England and NHS England to ensure that the very latest protocols are adhered to.”
He stressed: “Prevention is always better than cure, so, as with the flu virus, the most effective way for people to protect themselves from Covid-19 is to adopt good respiratory and hand hygiene to prevent the risk of infection and a ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach to coughs and sneezes. As the situation develops guidance is updated daily.”
The hospitality trade in Alsager is facing uncertainty following the Government’s advice for people to avoid pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants.
Maria Cook, owner of the Wilbraham Arms on Sandbach Road North, said in a statement: “The Government cannot be vilified for the advice they have given to the public about social distancing and with that the avoidance of pubs, clubs and theatres etc.
“However, from a business perspective, we need the Government to order us to close so that some relief may be found by the way of insurance. All businesses pay insurance premiums to support them in times of struggle and currently we aren’t insured for loss of earnings or to cover the cost of bills incurred if we choose to close rather than being ordered to by the Government.”
Ms Cook called on the Government to meet the demands from the British Institute of Innkeeping, which includes an urgent rescue package for pubs and hospitality businesses; a guarantee to pay staff wages and a cancellation of VAT, business rates and rent across the sector.
She added: “It’s difficult to say whether our business will survive this but I would say that we aren’t being given the best support to provide us with a chance. I would like to make it clear that we support the need for social distancing and we are well aware that this includes avoiding businesses such as ours. However, we do need some more support from the Government with regards to rates relief or similar.”
David Glendinning, owner of Ey Up Duck on Crewe Road, said his business had not yet been badly hit in the unfolding situation: “We’re getting a lot of people who are working from home. When it comes to lunchtime, people are coming in for a change of scenery.”
However, he said he expected Government restrictions to tighten which would affect the business “very soon”.
“I’m under no illusion, I know I’m going to get closed down in the next couple of weeks,” he added.
Mr Glendinning said he planned to adapt his business to the new circumstances, with the possibility of operating a takeout and delivery service in particular for those who are self-isolating.
The Government announced a relaxation of planning laws which would allow businesses to operate a delivery service without the need for the council to consent a change of use.
Olivia Lawton-Beard, owner of Liv’s Deli on Crewe Road, said that people had been left confused by the Government’s advice: “I don’t think even they know what’s happening.” She called on the Government to offer more support for the self-employed as well as business owners, as they were set to lose a lot of their income.
Like other food establishments, she said that her café would likely begin delivering food to people’s homes.
If the UK does follow the line taken by France and Italy with a complete lockdown, Mrs Lawton-Beard said that her insurers would not cover her for lost earnings.
She said: “I’ll still have staff and bills to pay with no money coming in.”
The deli owner echoed calls for the Government to support businesses and staff during the crisis.
Regular Chronicle correspondent Stewart Green, of Sandbach, who works in hospital radio at Leighton, said: “The number of visitors has dropped to practically zero, leaving those in hospital without any outside communication.
“This is the first time in 30 years of presenting a request show on hospital radio that visitor numbers have been at such a low level.
Schools are generally expected to close shortly.
Alsager School head Richard Middlebrook is posting daily updates for parents online.
In one this week he told them: “As adults it is very important we do our best to try and allay any fears our young people might have about this very concerning situation. It is very important that we role model being calm, resilient and show care at all times both in our language and actions.”
The Chronicle spoke to Alsager’s health centre yesterday (Wednesday)
A spokesman at Merepark said: “We are doing everything over telephone, but patients can send queries via email if they want and the GP can look at those. We are not doing video consultations as yet.”
At the The Cedars a spokesman said: “We are doing mobile telephone consultations and video consultations. Should a patient require seeing, we can see them face-to-face but have strict screening in place.”
Sport across the area was badly hit. Some local football was played this weekend, although it may be the last. Hockey and rugby were also played.
The North West Counties Football League, in which Congleton, Alsager and Sandbach’s main teams all play, has suspended fixtures until further notice.
The Northern Premier League also “reluctantly” suspended all fixtures until further notice. Leek Town plays in the league’s South East Division, where most games went ahead on Saturday, the league saying last week that clubs had been “severely impacted” by weather-related postponements, and that “pausing the season right now would prove disastrous for many clubs”.
Many public events have been cancelled, with clubs and societies abandoning their programmes until further notice.
Events cancelled included Congleton’s Centre Stage Youth Theatre Company’s production of Hairspray, which after six months of rehearsal was due to open this weekend. All events at Congleton Town Hall have also been cancelled.
The Lyceum Theatre in Crewe has closed its doors, as have Buxton Opera House, the Victoria Hall and Regent Theatre in Hanley. Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre has also closed