Coronavirus: Surge in demand for plastic screens in NI

By Maggie Taggart

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A perspex manufacturer
Image caption,
Demand for screening has shot up since the coronavirus pandemic started

As many businesses look to reopen after the Covid-19 lockdown, they are trying to find the safest precautions for staff and customers.

For many, plastic screens could be the key.

However, demand for the transparent barriers from manufacturers has gone through the roof.

Across Northern Ireland, manufacturers and suppliers are working around the clock to satisfy a massive increase in orders.

Restaurants have been able to sell takeaway food, but now they are creeping warily towards more extensive opening.

'Couldn't get a date'

The Pizza Guyz shop in west Belfast has seating for sit-in customers but for the moment those seats will be used by its 10 delivery drivers.

In a short time it envisages customers calling in to pick up orders but, to keep their staff and clients safe, owner Ciaran Kelly has installed a transparent screen at the counter.

The problem has been finding supplies of the plastic and someone to fit it.

Image caption,
Finding someone to fit a plastic screen at Pizza Guyz in west Belfast was a challenge for owner Ciaran Kelly

"We started looking four to five weeks ago and found that guys either had not got the materials or were on furlough and could not give a date to do the work for four to five weeks".

He said he was beginning to panic that they would not have the protection in place in time.

Ciaran eventually tracked down a shop fitter who has now fitted a ceiling-to-counter screen with a gap cut to slide out pizza and slide in payment.

'Everything I get disappears'

One major manufacturer of the polycarbon or acrylic sheets in Northern Ireland has been so busy it has shifts running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A small east Belfast business which cuts and shapes sheets to fit has been inundated with orders.

Image caption,
See-through plastic screens give protection to staff and customers

Andrew Fleming's workshop is working long hours with a skeleton staff but has difficulty getting enough material to satisfy demand.

"I've been ordering maybe four times as much perspex as usual but everything I get in just disappears really quickly to customers," he said.

"The factory in England is working flat out but it can't keep up with demand."

Offered twice the sum

Shop fitter Sean Treacy knows how scarce and expensive the sheeting is.

He predicted a rush to buy it and ordered early but found others wanted to buy it from him at any price.

"I was picking up sheets of polycarbon and while I was loading the van another client who hadn't ordered ahead offered me twice the sum I had just paid for it," he said.

Image caption,
Sean Treacy had an offer to double his money on already expensive screening - but turned it down

Sean says he did the decent thing and refused the extra money so he could fulfil his customers' orders on time

The screens are likely to be semi-permanent fixtures while customers and staff feel there is a risk of Covid-19 being transmitted.