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Greek Couple among UK Business Owners Navigating COVID & Brexit

November 30, 2020

LONDON – A Greek couple is among the British business owners trying to deal with the COVID pandemic lockdowns as well as the threat of Brexit, since their business relies on importing products from Greece.

As in much of Europe, the United Kingdom saw a sharp resurgence of COVID-19 infections this autumn, and officials imposed a second round of severe restrictions. The suffering has been especially acute in the UK, where more than 57,000 people have died in Europe’s deadliest outbreak and the economy has plunged into the worst recession on record.

While small businesses all over the world are struggling as the virus forces many to close outright while also remaking consumer habits, many in the UK are facing the double whammy of the pandemic and the economic uncertainty caused by Britain's exit from the European Union.

Many British businesses managed to survive the spring lockdown with generous aid from the government, including grants and a program that pays a portion of wages to workers whose employers are struggling. The measures have helped keep the unemployment rate relatively low at 4.8% — though it has been rising and is forecast to hit 7.5% next spring.

The latest round of restrictions could pack a bigger punch, coming smack in the crucial weeks ahead of Christmas. Even before the second lockdown was announced, a survey conducted by Britain’s Office for National Statistics showed that one in seven UK companies reported having “little or no confidence” they would survive the next three months.

Grigorios Vaitsas says business at his deli, Isle of Olive, has not been too bad, even though he closed his small indoor cafe and Christmas shopping events have been canceled.

But Vaitsas and his partner, Paulina, who import their products from Greece, have been losing sleep over another threat: Brexit.

The couple are worried about the tariffs and bureaucracy if Britain leaves the economic embrace of the EU at the end of the year with no deal in place. That combined with the pandemic makes a “perfect storm,” Vaitsas said.

“We are holding our breath,” he said.

Vaitsas laughed when asked where he sees himself in six months. He says he's “operating on a week by week basis.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

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