The easing of isolation rules for people identified as close contacts of someone who has COVID-19 will make life easier for local businesses, including pubs, cafes, shops and hairdressers, many of whom have had to close in recent weeks due to staffing issues
There has been a significant increase in the number of businesses having to close as staff test positive or go into isolation as close contacts as Omicrom cases soared after Christmas.
Under the new regulations people who are close contacts who are fully-boosted and have no symptoms of the virus will no longer have to restrict their movements.
Sean Farrell, President of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, says the relaxing of the rules will be good news for shops and businesses, who either had to close or trade for reduced hours.
As manager of the Marshes Shopping Centre, he knows only too well the impact which this latest peak of the pandemic is having on business.
“From our own team, we’re struggling for a time as we had seven or eight staff out over two or three weeks due to having Covid or being a close contacts.”
He said that around half a dozen stores in the popular shopping centre also had to close over the past week or so.
"A lot of stores are having to close at lunch-time or can’t open late as they don’t have enough staff to provide the cover.”
Restaurants, cafes and bars are also being hit as their staff are unavailable for work.
McAteers Foodhouse in Clasbrassil Street re-opened last week, having closed for a week after one staff member tested positive and others were close contacts.
"There was no point in opening with so many staff out and we knew we would be opening up to quiet trade,” Bobby Wain said.
They were not the only hospitality business to make that decision, he said.
“It’s very hard for businesses such as pubs and cafes that have high staff numbers to stay open and because our margins are so tight, especially for pubs that can only open for a few hours anyway, that many see there is no point in opening.”
He said that the town centre has been very quite with a lot of people staying at home.
With the Omicron variant leading to record numbers of infections, he said people were isolating at home, or were staying at home as they didn’t want to send their children to school.
"There’s a pile of people just sitting it out. What’s worrying for a lot of businesses is whether they will be able reopen and keep trading.”
He said while himself and his partner Jerome had avoided contracting COVID-19 so far and they had seen the benefits of changing the way they do business and taking a longer break at Christmas.
“It’s a silver lining and we will do it again in future, even when the pandemic is over.”
The Spotted Dog and its sister premises The Patri also had to close when a staff member got a positive antigen test.
“We had just opened The Patri two weeks before Christmas,” says Siobhan Mulligan. “We closed on Christmas Eve and re-opened on December 29th and then found out that there was a positive antigen among the staff and everyone else was a close contact.”
‘We know that the systems we have in place thankfully meant that only one of us tested positive.”
She said that the new rules will make a big difference as it would allow them to remain open if a staff member who is close contact can continue working if they are a close contact and fully boostered.
However, she points out that some of their younger staff haven’t yet received a booster and says this could be a problem throughout the sector.
She hopes that the easing of restrictions and the return to normal trading hours will allow them to open later and give their staff more hours.
At the moment, she says “The town is very quiet. The footfall around the bus office and the Long Walk Shopping Centre isn’t as high as it would normally be. Even before Christmas you would notice the difference and while January is always quiet, it definitely seems much quieter than usual.”