As the world begins to buckle under the pressure of the coronavirus, and Scotland is hit with the stark reality of the pandemic, we ask give experts from the worlds of business, science and public life for their opinion of what lies ahead.

Andrew McRae is Scotland Policy Chair for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

Scotland’s business community stands ready to play their part in the plan to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

But politicians and other decision-makers must do everything possible to ensure independent firms and the self-employed, who account for a million Scottish jobs, also make it through this extremely challenging period.

In recent weeks, we’ve urged our members to develop business continuity plans and to investigate their insurance policies. We’ve also asked smaller businesses to have those important but tricky discussions with employees, customers, creditors and suppliers about what they plan to do if business conditions have to change.

However it is fair to acknowledge that a share of those in business now fear for their livelihoods. And, feedback suggests firms in hospitality and tourism, amongst others, are already finding trading difficult.

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That’s why the package of measures outlined by the Bank of England and the Chancellor this week was so welcome.

But the outlined actions – specifically those designed to help with short-term cash flow problems – need to be deployed quickly if they’re going to reach otherwise solid businesses in enough time.

For example, the Bank of England’s new bank lending scheme must be easy to access for all sorts of Scottish businesses, including the self-employed. And big businesses must provide help to their small suppliers, paying them promptly and possibly offering them credit.

In addition, while it was reassuring to hear the First Minister state that new rates help and grant funding is in the works, the support can’t come quickly enough.

Helpfully, policymakers have shown that they can act swiftly. The move to launch a new Scottish Enterprise helpline (0300 303 0660) should be commended. And new flexibility from HMRC should mean that firms aren’t worrying about their tax bill during this extraordinary period.

Everyone I’ve met in business over recent weeks is prepared to do everything the government asks. But many smaller operators will need ongoing support from government at all levels if they’re to provide jobs and services in the future.

Hugh Hill, Director of Services and Development at Simon Community

Coronavirus is a complex challenge to the homeless community. The health status of many of the people we support is one of them. They might be in their 40s but they have the health status of somebody in their 80s so there’s real concern over the health vulnerabilities in relation to the virus.

There are people who are homeless that are in accomodation and those who are classed as ‘roofless’ and they are the most vulnerable groups as 90% of service users are not physically active, have addiction issues and live in a survival, stressful environment.

Because addiction is many people’s primary drive, regardless of public health advice to look after themselves and self-isolation and protection of communities, their needs will trump that.

Another concern is, how do you self-isolate if you’ve not got a safe place to go? Not only that, most of us have friends and neighbours we could call up and ask for help. Our users don’t have those support networks so it makes their situation both vulnerable and challenging at the same time in terms of how you respond, look after and protect a client group that's so vulnerable but also quite chaoticand doesn't have the resources that most of the rest of us have.

We are in talks about how creative, flexible and adaptable we can we make our service It's trying to think really outside of the box in terms of how we can support people to have their needs met and be safe.

For people on the street, it is about finding accommodation and saying to them can we get you off? It's also about keeping in contact with them regularly.

We've got a number of services that are a priority for us so we will keep our street team running regardless. It might be a reduced service but we will always have somebody out there talking to people on the street about Covid-19.

Thankfully we've had no cases and there's no concerns out there at the moment. In terms of health services, there isn’t anything that's specific, to our this client group apart from the responses from the third sector so our challenge is to make sure we can get people plugged into the existing mainstream responses.

It’s easy for us to get our service users with dogs to take them to the vet but trying to get them to go to a GP is a nightmare. They often don't value their own health.

These are challenges we face every day anyway and we’re preparing for it to get much more acute over the next couple of weeks but at the moment we have to find ways of connecting people with the mainstream services that are there for others.

In terms of accommodation, we're looking at how we can get people off the streets and into places that are safe but once somebody’s perhaps a confirmed or likely case of coronavirus, it is going to be about talking to local authorities and housing providers and finding safe places to stay where support is available.

We're hoping that other services will think outside the box too so where we can't get somebody into accommodation now, for example, once circumstances change, the system may well change and adapt to say let’s do the right thing, let’s do it quickly and let's do it right.

People have been saying this isn't just going to change behaviours over the next month or so but there could be a legacy to this which is maybe we all work differently, maybe some of the changes we make in the services will stick and will stick in a good way - and actually be good changes.

What we might find is city centres are quieter over the next few weeks and when you get less footfall the begging revenue may well significantly reduce.

We've had discussions at government level and they are very aware of the issues and the concerns around particularly people who are rough sleeping so they have prioritised it and we're almost talking to them daily about what they can do to support us.

Locally we've got very good working relationships with other charities and we're working with other homeless charities asking what are the most important services to keep running.

We're looking at how to pool our resources including our staff. That joint working and cross support is certainly something we've done in Glasgow over many years. None of us are going to manage this on our own so let’s get together and think creatively and share best practice and find a way of communicating quickly and share staff and volunteers.

Marc Crothall, CEO, The Scottish Tourism Alliance

We are working with the government and agencies to protect minimum losses and disruption to our business base in Scotland but the reality is we're already seeing the impacts across the tourism sector with significant cancellations as well as forward booking being dramatically down. With that comes with concerns for many and real challenges including management of cashflow and retaining employment of colleagues.

The first real impact on the sector is the conference and events market, and then it's been international bookings which are typically high value, high spend customers who travel far and wide in Scotland making reservations in small hotels, businesses and independent properties. Those businesses are just about to go into a time where the season would be kicking in. Many have just employed staff and are worried about how to keep them and cashflow concerns that are a direct result of not having any business on the books.

We also have lots of adventure and tour operators who are down by around 45% of their bookings on last year already. There is a big impact on the sector and its supply chain. The pace of change is so rapid, without question when we come out of the other side, we will have a very different landscape and the importance is how does the industry bounce back to respond positively and make sure the message is clear that Scotland is very much open. Our industry is resilient but it's not going to be without casualty this time.

We have meetings with government officials about cashflow solutions and we're looking to get some form of agreement on a business rates - which are due imminently and are high cost - holiday.

We've just launched Scotland's future tourism strategy looking beyond 2020 to the next ten years to make us world leader in 21st-century tourism but we hadn't forecast grappling with a pandemic and an industry that is going to be devastated by a virus.

We hope the staycation and domestic market will continue and even grow as we have plenty to offer but we have to be in a position to respond quickly and if we're losing workforce or businesses can't invest in their assets and stem cashflow it puts them back again but the strong will survive and if we work together the smaller businesses have got a chance but it's going to be a tough run for the next few months.

We've already had lots of conversation about immediate action but also recovery time, rather than just wait for things to happen but the pace of change is so rapid we can only be guided by the advice given.

Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen

We are supposedly at the bottom end of the peak of the virus where the peak has not really started to rise very much. They may be right, or they may not be, we just don't know if the peak is sharp or flat. This is based on mathematical modelling of how they think it might go and that's obviously based on what we know about the virus.

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What the government's expectations seem to be is that we're going to move towards an Italian-type situation where the virus gets very busy across the UK and what they're hoping is by following the directives it can be contained. They want to flatten the peak in the expectation there will be a peak so the intensive care units are not going to be too stressed.

The big question is how many cases are actually occurring because there has been talk of 10,000 people already infected. I'm a bit sceptical about that, I would be surprised if there was as many as that because clearly one measure of how many people are infected is how many people have died so assuming that all those who have died and been positive for the virus, that number is still very small. I think the numbers are an informed guess and no more than that as I haven't seen the evidence to back it up.

There's some anxiety about how many cases are under the radar and there are undoubtedly some but it's how many and we don't really know and it may well be fewer than the speculated number. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all the things we have been doing up until now will mean we're not going to move towards an Italian situation.

Self-isolation if you've got a sudden, persistent cough plus a fever for seven days is sufficient because if you're ill at the beginning of the week and by the end of the week you won't be infectious anymore. If someone is returning from an infected place or has been in contact with a known case, two weeks quarantine includes the five day incubation period but you might not fall ill for ten days so those fortnights were to catch those people who had a longer incubation period. The test is very sensitive so it's not that tests are poor but that the virus hasn't shown itself yet.

Not testing at random is going to slightly hampers the work of the epidemiologists and finding out whether it is out there in the community but on the other hand focusing on hospital patients is justifiable because there will be a lot of pressure on the labs doing the testing to make the coronavirus a priority.

While there's not yet a treatment for it, we can make sure people are in the right place. If there are a large number of cases like Italy with large numbers of patients very, very sick it could become an ethical dilemma who to treat.

As for a vaccine, if I'm being optimistic we might have one by the end of the year because not only do we have to develop it but any vaccine has to go through trials. They have to show that it's safe in patients and that it works in the sense that it generates immunity and whether it's going to be the immunity that protects you against the virus is a slightly different story because just showing you made antibodies against the virus doesn't necessarily mean the vaccine is going to work.

Paul Waterson, honorary president, The Scottish Licensed Trade Association

There's a lot of worry in the industry. If we go to a position where there is shutdown or business levels are so low it's not worth opening, or you don't have enough staff to open its the fixed costs that kick in and cause major problems - regardless the size of the business.

The UK government has put into place a big emergency package to help deal with the COVID-19 virus and the collateral damage facing not only the licensed trade but all industries. There are many other issues facing the country but dealing with the immediate crisis is paramount.

The main things the hospitality industry in Scotland is seeking from Government to help the industry survive include a business rates moratorium of ideally a minimum of 6 months for ALL sizes of tourism business as the majority of those classified as small business in our sector don’t pay rates as it is. This will go some way to easing immediate cash flow worries and allow for an element of continued marketing and the ongoing essential investment in the properties to be done helping ensure businesses can be as competitive as possible when normality resumes.

A payment delay to ease cashflow - cash flow being one of the biggest concerns for small to medium business which dominate our sector. They like others need to be able to stem the outgoings to see them through the other side so that they are in a positive place and able to respond quickly when travel confidence returns.

A continued push from Scottish Government to the UK government for an immediate cut in tourism related VAT to incentivise consumers both from our domestic and international to book trips and holidays to enable trade to resume as quickly as possible when the virus threat subsides.

Make funding/low interest loans available to support tourism businesses to stay afloat, pay their staff many of whom have just been contracted for the season and operate as far as can possibly be normal throughout the short to medium term.

What the Scottish Government must do at least, if not improve on, is match the Chancellors plans on business rates in England and Wales. If business rates are abolished altogether for this year for retailers, the licensed hospitality trade must be included in this as many such businesses sit alongside retailers in our high streets and are facing the same issues. The Chancellor has also announced a cash grant of £3,000 for any company eligible for small business rates relief and this must also be matched. With the announcement that business rate discount for pubs in England and Wales will increase to £5,000, from £1,000 the Scottish Government must take immediate action in Scotland to help this proportionately overtaxed business sector. Any action taken by the Government must also take into the account the unique rating system applied to licensed premises in Scotland where many small independent operators fall into the category of “large businesses” when it comes to paying commercial rates.

There is a disappointment that there has been no movement on the VAT rate.

The SLTA would also plead with the Scottish Government to help the hospitality trade, particularly in this time of uncertainty, by delaying or abandoning a number of new regulations facing the industry which will see increased business costs imposed on, not just businesses, but customers as well.