CAREFUL and thoughtful changes to how people shop or do business in Cork city is key to emerging from the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Cork City Council’s chief executive, Ann Doherty.
Most of the phase one guidelines that had been mapped out two weeks ago by Government have come into effect today.
Some stores have reopened, while some industries, including construction, have restarted.
Cork City Council, in the measures it is putting in place, is guided by the Government’s roadmap.
For the local authority, Ms Doherty said, it is about ensuring “that all of the public health requirements can be met by all of us”.
“The first thing we’ve been doing is the deep clean to have the city ready. I think the big thing for everybody will be wanting to feel safe from a public health perspective, to be out and about.
“For us then it’s about how do we accommodate the spaces in this beautiful city that everybody can actually manage to co-exist together — whether it’s a business who needs some space outside their store, to pedestrians, cyclists, people on public transport or in cars, that they can all be accommodated,” Ms Doherty said.
“In this first phase it is a small reopening, and we just need to monitor it, see what happens, and be flexible.
“Nobody has written the manual on this. A pandemic is something that we read about in another world, or we saw it in some futuristic movie or book, but we’re now having to adapt our city to live with the reality that there is this virus within our community,” she added.
“We all have to remember that there is a five-phase plan. Hopefully we could get through the phases faster, but also we might regress. There is that balance.
"We’re not supposed to be gathering in large groups. We’re supposed to be respectful in terms of social distancing. That’s really important.
"It’s about how you achieve that and still get the vibrancy and atmosphere that we all love the city to have.”
That vibrancy and success of the city comes from its society and commerce, according to the chief executive, and she believes safety is paramount in ensuring that both of those aspects can continue.
To that end, City Hall has consulted a psychologist to understand better the impact the virus has and will have on people, how people feel, and what will motivate them to come back into the city.
From a business perspective, Ms Doherty said that no one could have predicted the challenges businesses in the city are currently facing.
The Local Enterprise Office is offering supports to help “reboot” local businesses, while the Government has also announced a number of packages and arrangements.
“Once there’s clarity about how they’re to be implemented, we’ll be right there supporting and implementing,” Ms Doherty said.
Another aspect of the arrangements in place for businesses is the Government’s commitment that three months of commercial rates will be waived for business and subsidised.
After that three- month point, it is not yet known what will happen.
“Is it enough or not? Of course, there’s always a need for more, but let’s work with the pieces we have in the first instance. We’ll continue to advocate for our businesses,” the chief executive said.
From a council point of view, if commercial rates aren’t subsidised by the Government down the line, there will be significant income issues.
Asked if this is a worry, the chief executive said: “You normally have some reference point in history that you can point to that helps you to understand, or to make assumptions about how things might recover or behave. That reference point does not exist in terms of this particular crisis,” she said.
“Therefore, you would be hopeful that some of the income streams would start to come on board, but I’m also mindful that it’s very dependent on how citizens react, and how successful the five-point plan of Government is.”
Ms Doherty did, however, say that there were a number of options to reduce council expenditure due to some events or other projects not being able to take place, but she admitted that there have and will also be some additional costs.
“We’re going through that analysis at the moment. It’s a balancing act, and I don’t have absolute answers to all of those things, nor does any business at the moment,” Ms Doherty said.
“We’re looking at how we best manage our resources. Safety of the city comes front and centre in terms of trying to put in place measures that will make citizens feel comfortable.”
Street furniture is another of the potential options that are being looked at for businesses, but Ms Doherty said that every change must be looked at from every viewpoint, including for those with mobility issues, and on a street-by-street basis.
“Sometimes when we come up with a plan, or an individual comes up with a plan, it may make a lot of sense for their business, but we’re going to have to look at it in the totality,” she said.
“What’s important is that we attempt to the best of all of our abilities to facilitate all needs,” Ms Doherty said.
Her message to people in the city as more businesses reopen, is not to become complacent — which is one of the biggest risks to the spread of the disease. She said any of the phased reopening plans in Cork and across the country will only work if everyone gets on board.
“All of these things still require each and every one of us as citizens to voluntarily commit to social distancing and all of the other public health advice that we get. If that starts to fall apart, what will happen is we will have a wider spread of disease which will have consequences for all of us,” Ms Doherty said.
“We all have the same innate fears in terms of our own health and that of our family and friends. We have a common denominator.
“We’re all voluntarily contributing to reducing the risk, but we need to do it together.”