THE Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (T&T Chamber) is urging the Government to combine the tightening of borders with strong enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations in order to bring down the number of infections in this country.
The Chamber’s response came after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced enhanced health regulations, including the closure of all food establishments from midnight last night. This includes street and itinerant vendors. He also announced the closure of all non-essential retail outlets.
In a statement yesterday, the T&T Chamber said it is concerned about the impact these latest restrictions will have on the business community and the economy. But acknowledged that the current infection trend and potential impact on the health system is sobering.
The statement said while the Chamber understands the concern about the movement of people, takeaway and delivery services make sense and such business operations should not have to be closed entirely.
“Many businesses have invested and developed their digital infrastructure to facilitate servicing their customers through kerbside pick-up and delivery services. Also, many entrepreneurs have established delivery services. These services are extremely safe and, in many instances, contactless,” the chamber stated.
Additionally, the business group said increased testing and contact tracing must be done, especially in the high-risk communities where the spread of the virus has escalated, as there is urgent need to specifically monitor the spread of the Brazilian variant.
“We must continue to aggressively pursue the procurement of vaccines. We must halt the spread at all costs. In the final analysis, the cost of continued lockdowns to the economy will be significantly more than whatever we have to pay for vaccines. These efforts must also be accompanied by an educational campaign to address vaccine hesitancy,” the Chamber said.
While there has been mention of some social support, the T&T Chamber calls on the Government to provide financial support for the business sectors that have been impacted.
“Based on Government’s limited ability to provide support, would it not be better to allow the established businesses which have a track record of operating safely to operate with reduced capacities so they can sustain operations even at a lower level?” the business group asked.
The American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AMCHAMTT) chief executive officer Nirad Tewarie said the further restrictions imposed were necessary, as this country is in a precarious position regarding the spread of the virus.
Tewarie said the Chamber appreciates that the Government is attempting to balance several difficult factors.
Moving forward, AMCHAM believes the acquisition of vaccines has be the number one priority.
The Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) president Gregory Aboud told the Express, it’s obvious that the country is facing a crisis. He is urging people to cease the finger-pointing or recriminations but instead support constructively these new measures and pledge cooperation in all aspects .
Aboud is encouraging the business community, wherever possible, to renew their commitment to assisting those in their employ in whatever way can be done to support them during this new period of restriction.
“We want to propose again a concerted national effort to accelerate, exponentially, the vaccination drive and inoculation of the population. Those societies which are experiencing a rapid return to normalcy have pointed to the importance of their Covid vaccination programme in facilitating their ability to reopen and we wish to encourage a constructive, urgent, multi-sectoral approach to increased vaccinations,” Aboud said.
President of the Arima Business Association Reval Chattergoon said the offer of social support to the tune of $5 million for those in need is applauded.
Chattergoon said while the Prime Minister indicated that he has to speak with the Finance Minister, perhaps consideration could be given to offering businesses relief in the form of tax breaks, tax subsidies, cheaper moratoriums as well as the possibility of paying residential rates for utilities as opposed to commercial rates given that there is no added benefit to paying the higher commercial rates.
“We eagerly await the outcome of this consultation with the Ministry of Finance as the financial obligations to financial institutions continue to run even during the physical closure of businesses. The association also awaits clarification and/or the list of essential businesses including those in the construction sector that would remain operational during these new restrictions.”
He added these new restrictions are definitely a necessary evil which must be implemented to preserve the future of citizens and businesses alike.