The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business to ease Covid-19 restrictions and reopen the country’s economy and society in a phased manner has seen the reopening of many Cork businesses today.
The roadmap includes a total of five phases which will see the unlocking of restrictions at three week intervals over the summer months.
Phase one will start from today, phase two on June 8, phase three on June 29, phase four on July 20 and the fifth and final phase on August 10 which will see the return of people to work across all sectors, larger social gatherings, further easing of restrictions on high risk retail services, and the commencement on a phased basis of the opening of primary and secondary schools and third level institutions.
The first phase in place from today will see the reopening of businesses which are primarily outdoor or those which were deemed essential during the first level of restrictions and the phased return of outdoor workers.
Businesses which are allowed to reopen in phase one of the Government plan include: Hardware stores, builders' merchants, and stores that provide supplies and tools essential for gardening, farming and agriculture.
It also includes the opening of garden centres and farmers' markets; opticians, optometrists, and outlets providing hearing test services, selling hearing aids and appliances; retailers involved in the sale, supply and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles and related facilities; office products and services; and electrical, IT and phone sales stores.
The Government acknowledged in its plan that many businesses will not simply be able to pick up where they left off and will agree a further package of measures to help businesses to restart, reconnect and rehire staff who have been laid off or furloughed.
A National Protocol to protect the health and safety of workers is also being developed by the Government, employers and trade unions, with the assistance of the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE.
Following a cabinet meeting on Friday afternoon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar deemed it safe to proceed with phase one of easing restrictions from today but stressed that phase two will only happen if people continue to observe social distancing and the spread of the virus continues to decline.
Speaking at a press briefing on Friday he said: “Some people, mainly in outdoor work will be able to start working again, for example, construction workers, gardeners and people attending to allotments.
“Some more stores will reopen and you’ll be able to shop again in garden centres, hardware stores, and farmers markets. Or, get your eyes tested or your car or motorbike or bicycle repaired.” He also advised that people should use face coverings in an enclosed indoor public area, such as retail, and on busy public transport, as part of phase one of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
He said that although the commencing of phase one “gives us reason to hope”, that it is “not a cause for celebration”.
"We have a long way to go yet. There will be bumps in the road and we have to keep our guard up,” he said.
Some of the businesses in Cork that are due to reopen their doors today have shared the measures that had to be taken and put in place in order to reopen, the losses experienced during closure due to Covid-19, how their business has adapted and their plan of action going forward.
Many people are turning their hand to DIY projects both indoors and outdoors during the current crisis and people will be able to purchase the tools needed to do so in phase one of the Government plan.
McQuillan Tools on Oliver Plunkett Street is a hardware store which is reopening its doors today after being shut since March 28.
The store has retailed on Oliver Plunkett Street since 1979 and has never before had to shut its doors or encountered anything like the Covid-19 virus in over 40 years of trading in the city centre.
Salesperson of McQuillan Tools, Jeremey Bullman, said that the company is “extremely happy” to be reopening the store and getting back to what is the new normal.
He said that he looks forward to seeing both long standing and new customers coming back in through the doors when they reopen under normal hours from 9am to 5.30pm on Monday.
McQuillan Tools has put in place new measures as per the Government and HSE guidelines in order to make the store a safe space for customers.
The shop has implemented two metre social distancing using signage, hand sanitizer is available on entering the storefront and perspex screens have been put in place at the tills.
A one-way system around the store has also been implemented and a maximum of two customers are allowed in the store at any given time.
Mr Bullman said that cleansing will be a big safety factor going forward and that surfaces around the store will be cleaned regularly throughout the day.
McQuillan Tools experienced losses during its two-month closure but is expecting business to be good upon reopening with “a lot of people doing the jobs they didn’t have time to do before all of this happened”.
Hanleys Garden Centre in Frankfield is reopening from 9am to 6pm today and will be organising a special shopping period for its elderly customers.
The store has been shut for eight weeks and has implemented all of the conditions outlined by the HSE and Bord Bia for the reopening of garden centres.
Manager of the store, Damien Conlon, said: “We have installed electronic customer counter at entrance and exit door to regulate numbers in store, perspex screens at tills, sanitising stations throughout the store, instore and floor signage highlighting social distancing, and have rearranged shelving to facilitate a one-way system and better customer flow.”
Mr Conlon said that he expects a lot of customers after reopening as many people are turning their hand to outdoor projects and gardening during lockdown.
He said that the added expense of reopening is one which “cannot be got away with” and that the safety of staff and customers is very important.
“If we did not implement all the measures we couldn't open safely,” he said.
John Daly Opticians on Oliver Plunkett Street will be reopening on an appointment basis only from today as part of phase one of the Government’s plan to reopen businesses.
Manager of the store, Clodagh Daly, said that the most important thing upon reopening is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of her staff and customers.
Ms Daly said that “a huge amount of work” has gone into changing the store and implementing safety regulations in preparation to reopen.
The store’s opening hours have changed from 9am to 5.30 pm to new opening times of 9am to 12.30pm and 1pm to 5pm.
“The biggest change for us will be that we have to operate under an appointment basis only so we can’t have our doors open as we used to have. We will be asking people to make appointments for literally everything. It helps us to manage numbers and to operate calmly and safely.
“We’ve ensured everything is cleaned and sanitized. As you walk in the door there is a hand sanitizing station, we’ll ask people to wait, we’ll all be in new uniforms, we have a perspex screen all around the reception area and we will be wearing visors and masks and the appropriate PPE,” she said.
She said that the situation is ever-changing but that at the moment the store is trying to implement the required changes “calmly, safely and slowly”.
She said that consultations are now being held over the phone between optometrists and customers prior to them visiting the store to gather information such as medical history and family history to ensure limited time in the testing room.
People who want to browse for glasses frames can do so. Surfaces will be cleaned and staff will be wearing PPE and practising social distancing and a one-way system will also be in place.
“Once we know what somebody is coming in for, we’ll have it ready. We’re trying to keep it as efficient as possible,” she said.
She said that there is a waiting list at the moment of people who were due to have an appointment before the outbreak of Covid-19 but she said “people are very kind and patient” and “understand that if they have to wait an extra few days, they’ll equally get the same time that everyone else will have”.
She said that her 10 staff members will be split into two teams and each team will work three days each during the week and will not be in direct contact with each other protect staff members and customers.
O’Callaghan’s Expert Electrical Store in Kinsale Road Business Park has been shut since March 28 but continued a collection and delivery service throughout the pandemic.
The electrical appliances business was deemed essential and provided an emergency service for those in urgent need of a particular appliance during lockdown.
Owner of the store, Leo O’Callaghan said that although other electrical appliances businesses offered an online service, that people could be waiting up to seven days for their product to arrive.
O’Callaghan’s have been providing a next day delivery service for its customers and have been “crazy busy” with orders.
The store is set to reopen today and Mr O’Callaghan has been putting required measures in place in preparation.
Mr O’Callaghan is implementing a one-way system in the store that customers must adhere to, signage will be displayed clearly and cleansing will be in place with a hand sanitizer station in operation at the store’s entrance.
The store offers 7,000 square feet of various electrical appliances and Mr O’Callaghan said that it will be “very difficult to implement a one-way system in such a big store” and that preventing people drifting from one area of the store to the next would be a “hard thing to do also”.
He said that “special signage” will mark a two metre distance on the shop floor and that aisles have been widened to give customers enough room to safely maneuver the store.
Mr O’Callaghan said that he believes he will be “very busy” with the resumption of construction work and renovations in the first phase of the Government plan.
He said that he expects to do well after reopening and that “quite a lot of stock” is being held for customers to collect in the next week to 10 days.
Customers can show up at the store without appointment but they “must stick to the guidelines”.
Mr O’Callaghan said that the 11 staff members will still be based on the floor in the shop and will be available to answer any questions from customers.
“It technically is ordinary trading except we will be adhering to the restrictions that are required. Customers can still come into the shop and we’ll be here to answer any questions that the customers have about the products they are after,” he said.
Bike sales, repair and rental store, The Bike Shed on Magazine Road has been shut since March and is reopening with “quite a few orders ready to go out” today.
Owner Cillian Read said that the “phone has been hopping” with people placing orders and looking to have their bikes repaired and he expects to be “very busy” upon reopening today.
He said that between two and four people are going to be allowed into the shop at any given time and that staff will serve as many people as possible outside the door and get an idea of what the customer wants before letting them into the store.
“The customers will definitely need more attention than they would have in the past to make sure that things happen a bit quicker,” he said.
Mr Read said that two metre markers will be in place both inside and outside the shop, floor space will be kept as clear as possible and sanitation will be in place also.
He said that handle bars will have to be consistently cleaned as bikes are brought in for repair to ensure the virus is not potentially transmitted.
“Our work stations where our mechanics work are naturally two metres apart. We’re lucky, we’re not like the construction industry, you work on your own on a bike, it’s rare that you’d need to have two people working on a bike at one point,” he said.
He said that staff are “really excited” to be coming back to work and that there has been an increase in email enquiries and phone calls, in line with the surge of family cycling as late.
“We’ve noticed a huge surge of family cycling. You'd see parents and two or three kids cycling on quiet roads so it’s definitely a chance to turn the city more pedestrian and cycle-friendly.” He said that people need bikes at the minute and the demand is there for them as people are now using them as a “personal gym” and to commute to and from work or the shop.
“It’s the ultimate tool because even public transport is being cut. I think a quarter of what it was is the capacity of a bus now because of social distancing so I think we’re really going to see people moving to bikes. There’s people pushing bikes out of the shed that have been there for 20 years,” he said.
He said that although he expects a bike boom which has seen suppliers in the UK run out of stock due to enormous demand, that he does not know how long it will last.
A major loss for the business is the lack of students in the city who would normally purchase a bike to commute to and from college and lack of tourists who would normally rent a bike during their time in the city.
He said that the business had to cover added expenses in order to reopen and that hand sanitizer was the main expense.
Staff made their own signage to display in the store in order to cut costs.
“Because we’re bike mechanics, we are quite innovative. We’ve made our own signs and we’re using practical measures because we spend our days fixing so we can turn our hand to organise these things,” he said.
Development and commercial property business O’Flynn Group has been shut for seven weeks and has been preparing for its reopening today with its Covid-19 action plan.
O’Flynn Group had already been implementing a lot of the safety measures that are now required before its closure and is now continuing to monitor the evolving Covid-19 situation, which is at the forefront of its risk management planning and discussions.
Certain protocols and risk management measures, which will be amended as required and under advice from the HSE and CIF and HSA, have been implemented throughout the business’ operations.
These include social distancing measures, hygiene and cleaning standards, the use of PPE, sufficient site management, and the appointment of an on-site Covid-19 compliance officer.
Chairman and CEO of O’Flynn Group, Michael O’Flynn, said that the business has spent the last number of weeks preparing the detailed plan for its employees.
Mr O’Flynn said that construction sites will adhere to all required restrictions and guidelines and that social distancing will be overseen.
“I think social distancing is difficult everywhere, whether you’re in a shop or on a construction site. I’m pleased that our workforce understands the seriousness of the health risk and that’s one of the advantages of the lockdown, people had time to reflect on how serious this is,” he said.
He said that he “fully accepted” the business’ closure but was “somewhat surprised” that it was closed for seven weeks given that other countries such as Germany and the UK “never stopped housing”.
“Our productivity will definitely be down but we don’t know exactly how much. Housing is at the lower end of the scale in terms of difficulty to implement this strategy. Apartment building and some of the other heavy construction activities will be more difficult.
“It will certainly be much more impacted when it comes to apartment construction. Apartments were already struggling on the viability stage so this is going to further the viability challenges with apartments,” he said.
He said that there were “lots of houses that were at different stages” of completion before Covid-19 and that there will now be a “huge impact” on the business’ programme and on people waiting for their houses to be completed.
“It has created a lot of uncertainty around housing, as it has for other businesses, but housing is particularly topical and somewhat emotive when it comes to the biggest investment that people make in their lives.” He said that due to the productivity impact that houses that were on course of being constructed will be completed a minimum of three months later than originally expected.
He said that the business endured additional costs in preparing the sites which were “inevitable” but that the main cost will be the reduced productivity.
He said that be believes that there will be “huge surveillance” on how businesses reopening in phase one of the Government plan will operate.
“I think it's incumbent on our industry to show leadership for all other phases and it’s also in everyone’s interest because while health remains the priority, the economy has to go on but only on the basis that it’s done safely,” he said.
Houston Office Supplies and Interiors on Marlboro Street in the city centre has been shut since mid-March and will continue to operate a click-and-collect and delivery service to customers while it assesses how the return to work situation develops.
Houston Office Supplies and Interiors offers two separate elements to its business which have been affected differently.
The company’s general office supplies section has continued to operate with reduced staff working behind closed doors in split shifts, mainly to support nursing homes, pharmacies, medical specialists and GPs.
Owner of the company, Seán Houston said that professional offices such as solicitors and accountants, the normal mainstay of its supplies business, along with retail and service industries “virtually dried up overnight as soon the shut-down happened”.
The situation over the past eight weeks has been somewhat different for the office furniture side of the business which had been very busy with record furniture sales growth prior to the lockdown, which Mr Houston puts down to the hard work of his son Bryan who joined the business last year having worked for large corporates in Dublin.
“As most of our office furniture offering is manufactured throughout Europe, production and delivery times were inevitably hit. As furniture production resumes in Italy, Spain, Poland and elsewhere we are seeing a return to expected delivery times. This is very important for us, as so much of what we sell is bespoke for the particular client, is specified by an architect, or is ordered to match existing office furniture.
“The past six weeks have seen a huge demand for partitions of all types, to enable office staff to safely resume work. We are kept busy with the supply of fabric, acrylic and glass screens and enclosures in every shape and size,” he said.
Mr Houston said staff are “much more conscious of keeping our distance and hand-washing” but that a limit on numbers of staff and visitors allowed in the store at any one time will also have to be imposed.
He said that the fact that so many people are working from home will probably reduce demand for paper and filing products as more and more data is being dealt with online but that on the other hand the company is seeing a lot of demand for “proper office furniture in the home”, as people realise the importance of good ergonomics wherever they are working.
He said that although the business has been hit “very hard” over the last two months, that he is confident that loyal customers will return and “volumes will rise to near previous levels”.
“I think that people appreciate the benefits of dealing with experts and as we approach the centenary of the founding of our family firm, one thing I can say is that we are experts in the products we sell and we do go to great lengths to make sure that our customers are satisfied.
“We are a tight team with my wife Ursula, son Bryan and very dedicated staff, and while we have made use of the Covid support scheme, we look forward to having everyone back and busy as soon as possible,” he said.