Employees of Royal Castle‘s Independence Square

STRICTER MEASURES: Employees of Royal Castle‘s Independence Square, Port of Spain, branch in deep discussion, yesterday, following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement of the new Covid-19 restrictions. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday ordered a wide-scale lockdown affecting many businesses including restaurants, bars, casinos, malls, gyms, spas, cinemas and others. The lockdown will remain in effect until May 23. The announcement came as the Ministry of Health reported a record 328 new cases of the virus and two new deaths—the 19th and 20th deaths for this month.

Arima Business Association (ABA) president Reval Chattergoon told the Express he was satisfied with the PM’s announcement.

“We asked for increased restrictions to combat Covid-19 and the Prime Minister did exactly that,” he said.

“We are very thankful that he has not touched retail businesses just yet but we must acknowledge that we got a stern warning for behaviour patterns to change.”

Chattergoon said along with a lockdown, there should be an increase in the vaccination drive as well as assistance for small and medium businesses to stay afloat.

He said while some may not agree with another lockdown, it is better to “rip off the band aid” and implement tough measures now to prevent prolonged hardship.

He described the lockdown as a “necessary evil”.

Venezuelans causing spike

In a response yesterday evening, the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers said it was alarmed and concerned by the increasing Covid-19 numbers.

Co-ordinator of the Confederation, Jai Leladharsingh, said citizens must strictly adhere to the health protocols in order to prevent any further spread.

However, he said the new lockdown measures will be detrimental to businesses.

“The additional restrictions as articulated by the Prime Minister will negatively impact the survivability and sustainability of the restaurants, bars and other entertainment businesses. This will not augur well for the continued existence of the business landscape.”

Leladharsingh said he believed the spike in cases is being caused by the unchecked flow of undocumented Venezuelans as evidenced by confirmation of the origins of the Brazilian variant.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh revealed this week that the first case of the variant was detected in a Venezuelan migrant. He however warned against blaming the migrant population for the increase in cases.

Leladharsingh called for stricter monitoring of the country’s borders as a matter of emergency.

Leladharsingh’s comments were echoed by the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce which said the porous borders appear to be contributing to the increase in cases.

The Chamber called for stricter monitoring of the country’s borders as well as better enforcement of existing Covid-19 regulations.

“What is needed is robust enforcement of the current measures,” the Chamber said in a release.

“Many private sector organisations have implemented the required safety measures to keep their staff and customers safe.

“The additional restrictions will hurt the compliant businesses while lack of enforcement with the non-compliant businesses and individuals continue to put our citizens at risk. We would like the government to re-consider the position on food and beverage take way and delivery services.”

It added that Government must reconsider providing financial support for affected businesses through tax deferrals or expediting VAT refund payments.

The Chamber said while it understood the need for stricter enforcement on private group gatherings, it is concerned about the extent to which such protocols may be implemented as it may encroach on the privacy and constitutional rights of citizens.

Ramp up vaccination

Responding to Rowley’s announcement Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) president Gregory Aboud questioned the science behind choosing which business can stay open and those that are ordered to close.

“There needs to be a logical, rational discussion in which we are made to understand more of the science at work with respect to the choices being made as to what businesses can remain open and what businesses are closing,” he said.

Aboud however said he is concerned about the health and welfare of citizens and recognises the need for increased restrictions.

He added that vaccination needs to be ramped up as it is a measure of protection for the population.

“We would like to reiterate the support that has been expressed by a great number of business associations to support the government in its vaccination drive and also in its vaccination acceptance efforts as a critical aspect of protecting the country from the high rate of infections which we are experiencing now.”

The Tobago Business Chamber also called for a more robust vaccination campaign.

Chamber President Martin George said there needs to be immediate and widespread administration of vaccines so that the population achieves some level of herd immunity.

“You can’t just be on a restrictive lockdown mode alone. We have to be more proactive than that and we have to look at finding ways to also be able to preserve livelihoods while preserving lives. We have to find a way to manage the economy while managing the health crisis...and mass vaccination is definitely the way.”

George said ultimately people must find a way to co-exist with the virus.

Full support from TTMA

The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association said yesterday that it fully supports the new lockdown measures.

“The Association understands the challenges the government faces with regard to putting measures in place to secure the lives of the citizenry,” the TTMA said in a release.

“The TTMA fully supports the measures outlined by the government to reel in the escalating rise of active Covid-19 cases. It is alarming that 328 persons were recorded as infected today. The behaviour of ourselves in a pandemic needs to be in check and so the spiral rise of infected person is not acceptable. Therefore, the TTMA is in agreement that drastic measures are needed to retract the curve as mentioned by the honourable Prime Minister.”

The Association said it also supported the manufacturing sector not being closed at this time.

“Such businesses keeping their doors open is imperative to stimulating the economy, even in a time of limited lockdown,” it stated.

“The manufacturing sector, for the most part, is self-regulating and I am confident we would continue to do all that we can to put all measures in place to safeguard our workers and ourselves from the exposure to the virus.”

The Association said it is hopeful that the lockdown measures have the desired effect and businesses can resume as normal after May 23.

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