Companies urged to get ready for coronavirus to hit Suffolk economy

Some people in London are already wearing facemasks to protect against coronavirus. Now businesses i

Some people in London are already wearing facemasks to protect against coronavirus. Now businesses in Suffolk are being advised to make their own preparations. Picture: Luciana Guerra/ PA Wire - Credit: PA

Businesses across Suffolk are being advised to plan and prepare for the effects of coronavirus hitting the region in the next few weeks – and should get advice through the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce if the expected outbreak happens.

The Chamber is also pressing the government to support businesses who could find their work slows with staff sent home ill, or to self-isolate, as the virus spreads across the region.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister announced that workers told to self-isolate due to coronavirus will receive sick pay from day one.

Paul Simon from the Suffolk Chamber said: "We will be looking to the government to ensure that appropriate advice is given to companies to ensure they can make the right decisions to continue to effectively function during the possible peak periods of coronavirus.

"More generally, we and our national organisation, the British Chambers of Commerce are lobbying the Government to ensure that the necessary fiscal and monetary mechanisms are in place to assist the economy over any short-term challenges."

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There have been fears that smaller firms could struggle to meet the sick-pay if significant proportions of their workforce are unable to turn up at their workplace - and many are being advised to allow those who can work from home to do so.

Across the country there are also fears about self-employed people who may be tempted to work even if they do feel ill because otherwise they will lose their income.

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More generally, Mr Simon said the Chamber's members should keep up to date with current government advice: "Our advice to our members and the wider business community is to maintain a continuous risk assessment process.

"This means considering the potential impact that the virus could have on their operations, both in terms of their supply chains and staffing availability, and act now to mitigate any risks.

"Through the British Chambers of Commerce, Suffolk Chamber is keeping close to how businesses elsewhere, both in the UK and overseas, are planning for various scenarios and we will be sharing that best practice with our members. We are also ensuring that firms are aware of up-to-date official advice and guidance."

The concern is already have a direct impact on some businesses. Recruitment agency Adecco's branch in Queen Street, Ipswich, is asking people who have visited a number of countries affected by coronavirus, including Italy and China, not to come into the office, but to contact them by phone instead.

A sign in the office window said: "Due to coronavirus, if you have returned to the UK from the following areas in the last 28 days, please do not come into the office." Job-seekers are instead advised to call the office by phone for a telephone interview.

Adecco did not wish to comment.

Boris Johnson said people who self-isolate are "helping to protect all of us by slowing the spread of the virus" and did not deserve to be penalised financially.

He told the House of Commons that sick pay changes would be brought in as part of emergency coronavirus legislation.

"If they stay at home and if we ask people to self-isolate, they may lose out financially," he told MPs.

"So, I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency coronavirus legislation, measures to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules, and I think that's the right way forward.

"Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing."

But TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the move did not go far enough: "Two million workers still don't earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. They can't afford not to work. And statutory sick pay still isn't enough to live on."

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