BUSINESSES in West Devon fear a ‘pingmaggedon’ which could rob them of vital staff just as the holiday season kicks off.

Small business owners are urging customers to help them halt the spread of the new variant of Covid-19 as they gear up for a mini-boom as tourists desperate for a holiday flock to the area. Restrictions enforcing the wearing of face-masks in shops were lifted on Monday as Prime Minister announcement his so-called ‘Freedom Day’.

But the problem facing West Devon’s small businesses are that their staff must self-isolate for seven days if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS app which warns them they have been in contact with someone carrying coronavirus. And that means businesses such as shops may have to go on restricted opening hours — or temporarily close altogether — just as badly-needed cash from the tourist industry starts to roll in. One business leader described the situation as ‘pingmaggedon’.

Small business owners took to social media to persuade shoppers to continue wearing face masks, sanitising with hand gel and keeping a distance from other people. Among those most at risk are younger staff members who have not yet been fully vaccinated.

Janna Sanders, manager of Tavistock’s Business Improvement District (BID), said it was ‘imperative’ that they keep the town open for business in the wake of months of difficult trading conditions.

She said: ‘I did a survey of levy payers (to BID) to see where they stand over the relaxation of social distancing measures in their business. Just over half of those surveyed expressed concern that the removal of face masks has the potential for negative impact. Many independent businesses in town are either owner-run or rely on a small team of staff and having to self-isolate could mean they face closure while doing so.

‘With that in mind, a large proportion of businesses are retaining their safety measures and will ask visitors to wear a face covering. The BID is fully supportive of this and asks people to be understanding and considerate if they find some measures still in place. After months of difficult trading conditions, it is imperative that we keep the town open and thriving.’

That message was reinforced by tourism organisation Visit Tavistock, who urged residents to respect the wishes of businesses who asked customers to wear masks. They said: ‘Many local businesses have decided to retain their safety measures for their safety and yours.

‘Please do respect this if you are asked to wear a face covering. As we enter a new phase of the lifting of restrictions, we know that many people remain cautious. That includes our local businesses who want to be able to continue serving you.

‘Some of them will therefore still be following social distancing measures and asking you to wear a face mask.

‘We would ask you to respect their wishes so we can keep the town open and thriving as well as providing a continued safe environment for visitors and locals.’

Major supermarkets said they would retain measures to prevent the spread of the virus in place. Tescos, Lidls and Morrisons were asking customers to continue wearing masks, keep their distance and use hand sanitisers at stores.