RESTAURANT owners and business chiefs in Helensburgh have warned of a "devastating" effect on the local economy after the Prime Minister urged people to maintain "social distancing" as much as possible.

Boris Johnson told people on Monday to stay away from pubs, clubs and restaurants in a bid to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Many Helensburgh eateries remain open for the time being, but have warned that a sharp fall in bookings may take the situation out of their hands and cause outlets to close temporarily, or permanently.

Melanie Andrews, who runs the Craigard Tearoom in Sinclair Street, said she has no doubt that some businesses will be unable to cope with the subsequent loss of revenue.

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She has already closed the doors of her business as she doesn't want to put the lives of elderly regulars at risk.

"The news from the government is just horrific," she said.

"The entire nation has been told not to go out. Every single person has been touched by this and if they're not at the moment, then they will be soon.

"This is not going to go away and without a doubt businesses are going to go under.

"Businesses in Helensburgh are clinging on with their teeth anyway."

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The Sugar Boat restaurant in Helensburgh, meanwhile, is staying open, but owners have pleaded with residents to support local businesses.

A statement on the Sugar Boat's Facebook page on Monday said: "We will of course follow government advice and trade accordingly but whilst we’re fit and healthy we will welcome you with our usual bonhomie, cheer and hospitality and always the best of food and drink.

"Please be advised that we may close doors early due to lack of bookings/customers so please book with or call us rather than just turn up.

"Please support your local businesses and we hope to see you through our doors over the coming weeks."

And Cara Nikolic, who owns La Barca, Padrone and Cattle and Creel with husband Milan, said shifts and staff hours will inevitably have to be cut if customers stay away.

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Ms Nikolic told the Advertiser: "We aim to stay open for business but if customers follow the government's advice to stay away we will inevitably have to cut shifts and staff hours.

"In the meantime we’ll do everything we can keep going and get our customers and staff through this.”

Vivien Dance, chair of the Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, said: "There is no doubt that the economic and social impact of Covid-19 is going to be devasting for business across the globe and Helensburgh and Lomond is already feeling the stress of what is happening on the ground.

"The self-isolation recommendation has transformed the town over the weekend; hospitality and service businesses are reporting cancelled bookings with turnover plummeting and many of our independent shops are commenting that customers have been few and far between in the last few days.

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"Supply and manufacturing is also being hit as a significant reduction in demand is now being anticipated so companies are already taking drastic measures to remain afloat.

"The knock on impact of how the public reacts to what the nation is facing in the weeks and months ahead will be extremely difficult for workers and their families and all our community can do is to help wherever and whenever we can and, if practical, ensure that we continue to support our town businesses for all our needs.

"The fact that the Scottish Government has moved extremely quickly to provide immediate relief for businesses has been welcomed by Scottish Chambers of Commerce and will no doubt provide some comfort for local businesses in what will be a very bleak trading period for the foreseeable future.

"The package of measures put in place is a welcome starting point and no doubt will need to be enhanced as lots of the unknown facets of this virus become clearer and Scottish Ministers continue to act to protect the business community as we face what is a frightening and intimidating threat to the future of our economy, our families and our everyday living."

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