Coronavirus: Firms need up to three weeks to exit lockdown, government warned

The government is being warned that businesses will need up to three weeks to resume activity once the coronavirus lockdown is eased.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) urged ministers to maintain financial support and deliver clear instructions in the coming days, to give firms time to prepare themselves as supply chains remain limp and staff away from the workplace.

It issued the plea as the prime minister prepares to update the nation on the state of play this weekend as the UK continues to make progress in bringing down infection and death rates from COVID-19.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to ease the strict restrictions on movement that were implemented on 23 March amid predictions, in some quarters, that the economy may be heading for the worst slump in decades if not centuries.

The cost of the Job Retention Scheme alone, to date, has topped £8bn with 6.3 million furloughed workers at more than 800,000 companies netting wage support.

The BCC’s latest Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker – a survey of its members – found that the speed of business resumption varied by business size and sector.

But it suggested some firms would need three weeks’ notice if they were to resume operations – most likely with forms of safety measures in place to protect health.

The survey found that 68% of business-to-business service firms would need less than one week or no notice to restart operations, compared to 50% of business-to-consumer service firms.

Smaller businesses may be able to restart operations more quickly, the BCC said, with 64% of respondents employing fewer than 10 people requiring less than one week.

The study showed 3% would need more than three weeks to operate properly.

BCC Director General Dr Adam Marshall said:  “Over the coming days, business communities will require clear forward guidance from government on plans to re-open parts of the economy, transport networks, schools and local services.

“Our results show that businesses’ ability to restart quickly varies by company size, and by sector.

“For these reasons and more, it will be crucial for the government to maintain and evolve support for businesses, to give as many firms as possible the chance to navigate a phased return to work.”

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