RESIDENTS have been urged to remain calm during a ‘never-before-seen’ spell of uncertainty due to coronavirus - but businesses at risk of folding have been promised Barnsley Council’s full support in a bid to stave off closures.

Speaking exclusively to the Chronicle this week, council leader Sir Steve Houghton and chief executive Sarah Norman confirmed that Barnsley now has five cases of the virus, but about 400 local businesses have already been given a 12-month rate relief and more are set to follow in the coming weeks.

Council-run libraries are remaining open - acting as information points - while Barnsley Market in the town centre will also continue trading in a bid to boost the economy which traders say has been severely impacted.

Steve said: “What we’ve seen this week is that a lot of people want to help others, which is great, but we need to make sure people are self-isolating if they’re feeling unwell.

“The market is open and it will be staying that way until we hear otherwise - people are very worried, I understand that, but the council is prepared and if people follow medical advice, I am confident - as difficult as it is currently - that we’ll work our way through this together.”

A package of support has already started to be rolled out by the council to businesses, which residents have been urged to back by choosing to shop local, while tenants struggling to pay rent have also been told to contact the local authority.

Sarah added: “There’s a hardship scheme in place and this will continue. About 400 businesses were helped on Wednesday and we want others to get in touch with us if they’re struggling, and that includes residents.

“We’re extremely aware of concerns regarding the economic impact but we need to ask people to please buy and support their local shops, use their local centres and make sure the Barnsley pound stays in Barnsley.

“Business is carrying on, not as usual and it is not easy, but we will be there and do all we can to help.”

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis labelled the crisis as the most serious public health matter of a lifetime, but urged residents to stick together through the ‘unprecedented’ period.

“I am working tirelessly to co-ordinate the response to coronavirus,” he added. “I am receiving regular briefings and I’m in contact with our directors of public health, the NHS, South Yorkshire Police and government ministers to make sure that Barnsley gets the resources we need to deal with the virus.

“Coronavirus will also have a profound impact on our economy as workers self-isolate. I welcome the announcement by the Department for Work and Pensions to guarantee access to statutory sick pay for all self-employed and gig economy workers and believe that the government must do everything in its power to support workers and businesses throughout this period of extreme turbulence.

“People who do the right thing and follow the government guidelines must not face a financial penalty for doing so.

“This will be an extraordinarily difficult time for our people, our communities and our public services. I have every confidence that our brilliant, hard-working NHS staff will rise to the challenge, but we all need to do what we can to support them. “That means shopping responsibly and not stockpiling, supporting our elderly and vulnerable relatives and neighbours who have to self-isolate and following the official guidelines as they are updated.

“I know our communities will look out for each other - as we saw in the floods last November - and that together we will come through this.”