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Confusion for British small business over lack of government advice

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Cafe Pomodoro in central London remains open despite collapse in customer numbers
Cafe Pomodoro in central London remains open despite collapse in customer numbers   -   Copyright  Euronews
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Small business owners across the UK are raising concerns over uncertainty in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the British government is yet to implement a nationwide lockdown, meaning people are still free to legally eat out, shop and gather in groups. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has encouraged social distancing in the UK, many in London are yet to heed the warning.

Staff at Hamleys Toys Shop perform a dance routine to entice customers into the store.

But fears over the virus have still led to a big drop in pedestrian traffic across the capital. For many businesses, that leaves them with a choice of whether to shut up shop voluntarily or continue to trade for what few customers remain.

“It's 60 to 70 per cent less (customers) than normal. Even maybe 80 per cent. We are still open because the government won't say anything so I don’t know what to do. I’m not so sure what to do on my own so if the government says anything, I’m ready to follow the government's rules," cafe owner Ivan Dobranja told Euronews.

"Everybody is very worried about this virus. It's like an invisible animal. It's hard but we have to get through this. If the government says its time to close, that's it, absolutely. Tomorrow if needed, or today, it doesn't matter," he said.

Fiscal boost

On Tuesday, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a business rescue package to help steer the UK economy through the pandemic.

"I am making available an initial 330 billion pounds of guarantees, equivalent to 15 per cent of our GDP. That means that any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms," he said.

Cabbies losing hope

But some critics say that it doesn't go far enough in helping sole traders, like London's Black Cab drivers. One driver, Mike, told Euronews that London had never experienced such a collapse in passengers using cabs.

“I’ve never seen it this bad in my 16 years of driving. Never. Not even close. It’s an ever-evolving picture but the drop of income I’d say just in the last couple of days is at least 50 percent. And if you’re not having a particularly good day, it could be a 70 to 80 percent drop. Most drivers are at least 50 percent down,” he told Euronews.

But despite the gloomy outlook, he said London would come together to help propel the city through the crisis.

"I think without a doubt we will survive it. It would have to go on a long, long time. I don't know how long but a long time for us (to not make it through)," he said.