IT is hard to imagine a position more daunting than being the owner of a small business right now. With the threat of coronavirus growing graver by the hour, and society moving increasingly towards self-isolation, the downturn in trade many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are suddenly faced with is almost impossible to conceive.

History shows that times of crises bring out the best in people, however, and thankfully there is already plenty of evidence of local traders responding to the current situation.

Community support is certainly alive and well where I live, I am happy to report. In normal times, business support network I Love Clarkston does a fine job in encouraging residents of the East Renfrewshire suburb to shop locally.

Now, in light of the virulent coronavirus, it is using its platform to highlight the efforts being made by local businesses to support the community, as well as to inform customers about the steps being taken to help halt the spread of the virus.

Local shops, cafes and restaurants have been quick to take to the group’s Facebook page to offer free home deliveries of food. Even the local pet shop is helping, offering home deliveries to ensure vital supplies continue to reach households in the area.

One local shop is co-ordinating offers of help from people to fellow residents who are self-isolating. People who want to help others can pop into the shop, Gifted, and fill out a tick-box form to outline the ways in which they can provide support, be it to pick up shopping, post mail or just to provide a friendly voice on the phone. Such help is bound to become priceless as self-isolation becomes the new norm for more and more of us, particularly after new measures for the over 70s and vulnerable groups were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night.

The kindness shown by local businesses is being replicated across the country.

In Inverness, bar and restaurant operator Cru Holdings has introduced a special service for NHS workers, offering free tea and coffee.

Celebrity chef Nick Nairn and wife Julia, who run the Cook School at the Port of Menteith, tweeted yesterday morning to say free soup and bread would be offered from 11am each morning for “valued elderly customers and neighbours who find themselves vulnerable”, signing off with the hashtag #weareallinthistogether.

Such acts of community spirit are hugely heartening at a time of such monumental crisis, providing much-needed support for those laid low, either physically or mentally, by the virus.

Sadly there is only so much it can do to mitigate the effects of the outbreak on business.

Support packages announced by the UK and Scottish governments in recent days, in the form of rates relief, loans and an extension of statutory sick pay, are welcome.

But there is a feeling they will only help in the short term. Some say the 75 per cent rates relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors announced by the Scottish Government should be indefinite, not just for the 2020/21 financial year.

Concern has also been raised that the support in Scotland will only provide protection for the smallest firms, important though this undoubtedly will be given the vital contribution they make to our society and the economy, and not for medium and large companies.

With cases of the virus rising sharply in the UK, we are now facing the prospect of severe restrictions on our day to day lives in the weeks and months ahead.

Indeed it is now surely inevitable that bars, restaurants, theatres and cinemas will close their doors after Johnson urged citizens to cut out all non-essential social contact.

In such circumstances, the wave of trading losses we are already witnessing across many sectors will only gather momentum, with huge numbers of job cuts sadly inevitable.

As we attempt to process the magnitude of the situation, aptly described by one close friend as “the challenge of our time”, the resolve of local communities and businesses will be tested to the limit. The very least government must do is match that commitment.