LOSSES at Irish firms hit by coronavirus fears will often not be covered by insurance policies for business disruption, Isme has warned.
Neil McDonnell, CEO of the group for small and medium-sized enterprises, said members reading the fine print of their policies were discovering clauses that explicitly exclude cover for trade lost by contagious diseases.
"I've just had a business owner in the hospitality sector get on to me: 'I'm looking at my business continuity insurance and they've got me. They won't cover me for anything to do with a notifiable disease'," Mr McDonnell said.
That firm's policy terms - given to the Irish Independent - include "special conditions" that exempt claims "resulting from interruption or interference with the business" linked to "any human infectious or human contagious disease".
The rising Covid-19 risk is driving event cancellations. AIB has called off Friday's investor update event in London, pulling it back to Dublin. The bank said it was "monitoring, scenario-planning and preparing for the potential impact from coronavirus", and "putting protections in place to minimise any potential impact" to customers and its 9,000 staff.
London-based asset manager Sarasin & Partners cancelled tomorrow's planned seminar at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin and plans to post online videos instead. The firm called it "a great disappointment to all".
Stephen Meehan, CEO of the Dublin Convention Centre, said events there were "continuing as normal".
"We have hand-sanitising stations at all entry and exit points," he said.
Mr McDonnell said many of his association's 10,500 business owners were struggling to source sufficient supplies of hand sanitisers and faced 30pc price mark-ups.
Some were also laying off temporary staff to minimise the costs of cancelled events and the likelihood of more.
Remote working to reduce coronavirus transmission risks could be an option for high-tech services firms, he said, but it will not work for firms providing hospitality.
"If Covid-19 is visited upon these businesses by someone walking in from the street, their business has to close or they have to send everybody home," he said. "Remote working is alright for Google. It isn't for a pub or a hotel."
Isme members had laid off hundreds of temporary workers who had expected to work around this weekend's cancelled Six Nations match.
Many Dublin pubs, restaurants and hotels hire at least 30pc extra staff on match days to cope with an influx of tens of thousands from outside the capital. "Some places you pass on the way to the Aviva Stadium would double staff or more," Mr McDonnell said.
He said firms had to be wary of reducing the hours of staff because of the risk of labour claims. But temp and casual workers were being widely cut.
"Where firms can back out of previous commitments, they're OK. They're not suddenly going to have a pile of waiters and waitresses hanging around with nothing to do," he said.
"But event hire is the bread and butter for some of these businesses. They're looking at losses now."