Covid-19: Businesses brace for the long haul

This afternoon’s main coronavirus points for business.

By Philip Connolly Editor, Fora
IN THIS TURBULENT time, Fora is going to bring you updates every morning and evening on the most relevant issues for Irish business dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19. Here are the main points this afternoon, March 17 at 5:30 pm. We want to know how your business is dealing with the outbreak, drop us a line at news@fora.ie 

It was a significantly quieter St. Patrick’s Day celebration today, as Ireland tries to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19.

Our colleagues over at TheJournal.ie have an update on the latest information as the Irish government has warned of the threat to the economy.

The sports world has been hammered too, with the Euro 2020 becoming the latest tournament to be postponed.

A new normal 

On RTÉ Radio One earlier today, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said a range of measures are being examined by the government to support citizens and businesses, as he warned that the “normal” of how the country operated a few weeks ago is not something “we will be returning to”. 

“I think the normal we all know a number of weeks ago, before the onslaught of Covid-19 into our lives,” he said. “That is a normal we will not be returning back to – if ever. In terms of how we will be engaging with each other and the shape of our economy.”

He spoke after David Fitzsimons, the head of Retail Excellence Ireland, outlined the “hardest and most challenging day” in the retail industry’s history yesterday as the sector is forecasting significant job losses.  

The industry body has said that 200,000 workers and their families will be “financially impacted” by the crisis while calling for a string of measures to support people and businesses affected by closures and job cuts.

Fitzsimons said we need to plan for the “budget of all budgets” for six to eight weeks time to get the economy going again. “We need shut down non-essential commerce today,” he said.

Business group DublinTown said city-wide footfall declined by 28%, according to data covering Monday 9 March to Sunday 15 March, compared with the same week in 2019. 

“While this drop was to be expected, they starkly illustrate the challenges facing businesses in the city. However, Dublin city has shown its ability to bounce back quickly before and DublinTown is calling on the Government to support hospitality and retail businesses at their time of need so they can emerge from the other side,” Richard Guiney, the chief executive of DublinTown, said. 

With the pub trade still reeling from the impact, Guinness has announced the establishment of a €1.5 million fund providing support to communities affected by COVID-19 in Ireland, with €1.2 million to support bar staff alongside a further €300,000 to elderly vulnerable people through a partnership with ALONE.

Sky Sports have also confirmed they won’t be charging pubs at present, with the coronavirus outbreak prompting most live sport to be cancelled in recent days. 

Whipsaw – market rebound then fizzle out then rally

European stock markets rebounded at the open this morning, erasing some of the previous session’s heavy losses, but virus-fuelled volatility still grips investors as the early bounce fizzled out, before markets gained ground in the afternoon. 

  • Ireland’s ISEQ was up by around 1.5% in early trading before dropping into negative territory and then recovering to close at a slight loss of 0.1%
  • European stock markets, which had surged around 5% in early deals Tuesday before erasing their gains, bounced back into positive territory.
  • Both London and Paris closed 2.8% higher
  • Frankfurt rose 2.3% and Milan 2.2%.
  • Wall Street stocks added to gains at midday after the White House signalled additional stimulus to boost the economy following the latest emergency steps by the Federal Reserve

EU finance ministers yesterday pledged to fight the coronavirus “war” that is destroying their economies but held off from announcing a major plan to boost Europe just yet.

Governments are making the tough decision to sacrifice their economies in last-ditch hopes of slowing the spread of the disease, as Eurogroup chairman Mario Centeno said the unfolding scenario was “war-like” and that EU ministers meeting by videoconference were duty-bound to do whatever it took to respond to the crisis.  

However, the ministers declined to specifically call in the help of the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s €410 billion war chest.

Big companies are still coming to terms with the crisis. German auto giant Volkswagen on Tuesday said the group was preparing to shutter most of its European plants as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains and sends demand plummeting.

“Production will be halted at our Spanish plants, Setubal in Portugal, Bratislava in Slovakia and the Lamborghini and Ducati plants in Italy before the end of this week,” CEO Herbert Diess said. 

Daimler has also said it plans to halt the ‘majority of production in Europe’ due to the virus.  

In the US, one company that is hiring is Amazon, which said yesterday that it was boosting pay and hiring 100,000 US workers due to strain on its workforce caused by a surge in online shopping prompted by coronavirus fears.

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The Seattle-based firm expects to spend more than $350 million to bump up hourly pay in North America and Europe for employees and partners in distribution centres, transportation operations and stores. 

The tech world is also banding together for a joint effort to root out misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic as a joint statement was issued by  Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Reddit along with Google-owned YouTube and Microsoft-owned LinkedIn who are “working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts”. 

Facebook has also announced a $100 million program to aid small firms impacted by the crisis. 

Something you might have missed

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin are collaborating with IBM and several other organisations to devise better ways for assessing children’s “digital maturity”

At the end of the project, the researchers hope to present a tool or product that will help parents and businesses better understand the long-term effects of technology, namely smartphones, on children.

With reporting from AFP 

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Note: This piece was updated with additional information during the day.