“I would normally have at least 30 suits there,” Anita Thomas said, pointing to the empty clothes rail in her dry-cleaning shop.

“But people aren’t going out. They’re in their pyjamas at home.”

Dry Clean Centre has been in Atherton town centre for more than 44 years – but its owners have been forced to let staff go and cut working hours just to stay afloat.

Market Street would usually be bustling with a wide variety of independent shops and businesses.

This week however, the town appeared largely empty with many owners choosing to pull down their shutters as coronavirus rates continue to rise in the area.

Earlier this week, the area of Atherton South West, which includes the town centre, was identified as one of the worst-hit areas for Covid in Greater Manchester.

Wigan Council, however, claim that there are no particular hotspots within the borough, adding that the second wave of the pandemic had been spread across most areas equally.

But still, some businesses fear the increase in local cases in the borough - the latest infection rate for Wigan stands at just over 680 cases per 100,000 people - may push them to the brink.

“We’ve been here 44 years and it’s never been this bad,” 60-year-old Anita, who co-owns the dry cleaners with her husband Bryan, continued.

“People have always wanted their dry cleaning – proms, weddings and other occasions.

Many businesses have been forced to close on Market Street in Atherton town centre
Many businesses have been forced to close on Market Street in Atherton town centre

“It’s affected us personally. We don’t have an income.

“We're living on savings, we haven’t had a wage in months.

“It’s so stressful. It’s heartbreaking just being stood here. We’ve seen our business disappear.”

Earlier this week Public Health England figures showed there were 78 positive cases recorded in the area during the week ending October 21.

Coronavirus cases have risen in Wigan
Coronavirus cases have risen in Wigan

Public Health England releases case numbers for areas known as Middle Super Output Areas, which are generally larger than council wards.

But the area labelled Atherton South West covers an area similar to the Atherleigh council ward.

Official statistics show that the numbers have increased in Atherton South West for four consecutive weeks.

Wigan council says there is 'no one particular reason for an upsurge in cases' in the area.

However, the M.E.N has learned of an outbreak in a care home which accounts for up to 28 cases.

Atherton South West has been named the worst affected area in the region
Earlier this week Public Health England figures showed there were 78 positive cases recorded in the area, near Wigan, during the week ending October 21

Pointing to a wedding dress on the rail of her dry cleaners, Anita said: "This wedding dress is the first one of the year. It's been horrendous."

John Hicks, owner of fruit and veg store Kiwi’s Quality Fresh Produce, recently took over the firm after working as a tree surgeon.

He had hoped the business would be his retirement.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News , he said: “The street is dying out.

“There’s very little footfall.

“We have a bank across the way, it’s the only one in town. They’ve put the hours back and past 2pm the streets are quiet.

“I’m quite disheartened. At the end of the day, it’s something I hoped would be my retirement.

John Hicks, owner of Kiwi’s Quality Fresh Produce
John Hicks, owner of Kiwi’s Quality Fresh Produce

“I only changed jobs in December to come to this. It’s killed my enthusiasm.”

Mourad Dehmas, owner of Imagine, a design and printing firm on Market Street, said he sleeps and wakes up feeling stressed.

“It’s been a lot quieter than usual,” he said.

“We try to stay open every day and make the most of it. Because we are a print sales company, most of our customers are closed.

“Stressed is an understatement. You sleep with it and wake up with it.

“We’ve only been open two years and we’re trying our best. We created an Atherton calendar to try and bring customers in.

Mourad Dehmas
Mourad Dehmas

“It’s a bit hit and miss. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s a very awkward business, its nothing like food or makeup.”

The latest coronavirus infection rate for Wigan borough stands at just over three times the national average.

When Greater Manchester was first placed under local restrictions on July 31, Wigan had a seven-day coronavirus infection rate of less than 10 cases per 100,000, below the national average.

Local leaders successfully argued that Wigan should be released from the restrictions as rates remained the lowest in Greater Manchester during most of August.

But the rate has continued to climb since mid-September and has led to Wigan, along with the rest of Greater Manchester, being placed under Tier 3 restrictions.

Danny Farrell, manager of Vape Citi vape shop on Market Street, said the firm has struggled with the dramatic decrease in footfall.

Vape Citi manager Danny Farrell
Vape Citi manager Danny Farrell

“A lot of people that aren’t coming in these days are self-isolating or aren’t going to work because it’s shut down,” the 23-year-old said.

“It’s been dead. The street is dead.

“We’ve struggled in a sense but the business has coped. This entire row of shops – they never seem to want to open.”

Julie Warburton and Sue Simm, directors of Yates Greer butchers, said they feel customers are scared to visit the shop.

They said: “This month we’ve definitely seen a change.

Julie Warburton and Sue Simm
Julie Warburton and Sue Simm

“We’ve just carried on as we are and will just have to see how it goes.

“This last month it’s been really quiet. People are scared of coming out.

“It’s a gradual thing.”

Dawn Birchall, store manager at No 97 Boutique, said staff have been forced to “get on with” the current situation - but the firm hasn't been as hard-hit as others in the area.

The 41-year-old said: “We've just got on with it really. There's nothing we can do.

“It has had an effect on us, but not as much as other shops.

“We've not had as many customers in. I think they're scared to spend money because they've lost their jobs.”

Dawn Birchall
Dawn Birchall

While cases have increased, Wigan council's director of public health, Professor Kate Ardern, said she would not class Atherton as a hotspot and that the area did not 'specifically have a problem'.

Each week, the authority publishes its own 'Covid-19 tracker', which breaks down the number of cases by council ward.

Prof Ardern says that presenting them in this way makes it easier for residents to understand.

According to the latest tracker, Standish with Langtree recorded the highest infection rate in the week up to October 23 with 905 cases per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, the rate in Atherleigh ward stood at 776 cases per 100,000.

Separate data released by the NHS shows that there has been an increase in the number of hospital patients dying with Covid-19 at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust in recent weeks.

NHS statistics last week showed there were no coronavirus deaths at all at the Trust in the three months between July 2 - October 2 but so far this month the Trust has reported 77 Covid-19 deaths.