Comment: For some firms it is starting to look like lockdown - so where is the support for business?

Not for the first time the messages coming from government are confusing - although the impact is clear.

Thursday, 16th December 2021, 8:05 pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is insisting ‘we’re not closing things down, we’re not asking people to cancel things’.

But he also warned ‘there’s a lot of Omicron around’ and to exercise caution ‘if you want to avoid isolation and getting unwell over Christmas’.

On Wednesday, chief medical officer Chris Whitty was revealing the ‘phenomenal’ spread of the new variant and warning people to prioritise social contacts to save Christmas (and the NHS).

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It is not officially lockdown but for some firms it is starting to look that way. So where is the support for business?

Top priority for most people is Christmas Day with loved ones.

So, obviously, the key to that is not testing positive and being forced to isolate for 10 days.

So, obviously, people are cancelling meals, parties and trips to things like the panto. Even the Queen has cancelled this year’s royal family Christmas lunch.

That is the night-follows-day result of what we’ve been told about this wave of the pandemic.

It is not officially lockdown - but for some firms it is starting to look that way.

So where is the support for business?

This week, Justin Rowntree, of Blend Kitchen on Ecclesall Road, said 35 per cent of Christmas bookings had cancelled. It will be higher today.

But this time the situation is much worse because there is no ‘safety net’.

Furlough and most grants have been withdrawn and many firms are up to their eyeballs in debt. Sheffield City Council, which ran its own grant scheme, says the cupboard is bare.

Now, Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield has urged the Chancellor to restart support and extend sick pay - millions are currently excluded - to prevent people with Covid having to work.

The Treasury says some schemes are still running, including loans and business rates relief, as well as a VAT reduction for hospitality.

But they aren’t going to keep firms afloat.

The government needs to urgently launch the lifeboats - or risk the calamity of business closures that its own confused messaging is set to cause.