coronavirus

Two weeks ago when calls had been made for another lockdown to be implemented, some members of the business community objected to such a measure, saying it would negatively impact their businesses and put their employees out of jobs.

Now, with the Covid-19 numbers spiralling out of control and multiple deaths being recorded daily, the business community has thrown its support behind implementing more restrictions. Businesses are now calling for the implementation of a curfew and an extension in the lockdown period, in order to limit movement and curb the spread of the virus.

This comes amid an alarming spike in cases that has seen 96 deaths recorded in just the first two weeks of May.

The Arima Business Association (ABA) had called for a lockdown two weeks ago and had met with opposition from other business groups.

In a release yesterday, the ABA said it believes further restrictions are imminent, and it would support any measures aimed at preserving lives, “even if this amounts to impo­sing a curfew or state of emergency.”

ABA president Reval Chattergoon told the Express that more restrictions are needed “because people are just not hearing”.

“And you can see the strain it is having on the healthcare system and the staff and family, and even the security forces, with 700 officers being quarantined,” he said.

“So I think we definitely have to do something. We cannot just wait and hope it goes away.”

Chattergoon’s comments were echoed by president of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association Gregory Aboud, who said if a curfew is recommended by the health authorities, he would fully support it.

“We will be in support of anything that the medical authorities guide us towards,” Aboud said.

“Nobody in their right mind would want to object to the increased measures that might be recommended now, given the state of the country with respect to this wave of infections and such a tragic number of deaths occurring,” he said.

T&T Chamber suggestions

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce also called for a curfew and suggested an extension in the lockdown period.

The Chamber had initially voiced its opposition to another lockdown when one was suggested by the ABA two weeks ago, saying many private sector organisations had already implemented the required safety measures to keep their staff and customers safe, and additional restrictions would hurt compliant businesses.

But the Chamber said yesterday it had received a number of calls from members of the business community, and it had held an emergency board meeting to discuss measures that could assist in controlling the spread of the virus.

“We recognise that it takes two weeks to see the impact of the actions taken. We therefore recommend, as an interim step, to extend the lockdown for another week to evaluate the impact of the actions taken,” the Chamber said in a release.

It said 85 per cent of those surveyed agreed an extension is needed.

It suggested: “Implement a limit­ed curfew from 9 p.m.-5 a.m. on weekdays, and 5 p.m.-5 a.m. on weekends to reduce casual movement of individuals. Only people who work in industrial operations, which need to operate on a shift basis, should be allowed movement during the curfew period with a letter from their employer. Inter-island transport will have to be considered and allowances made. 90 per cent of those surveyed agreed a limited curfew is needed.”

Further, it said the list of essential businesses must be reviewed, and only those that are absolutely necessary should be allowed to remain open. There must also be crowd control at all essential businesses, the Chamber advised.

“Where possible, we recommend the utilisation of curbside and delivery service options to reduce the interaction and movement of individuals. Additional efforts need to be taken by business to facilitate work from home. As additional vaccines are received, the priority should include persons who are working in the essential businesses to keep them safe.”

But even as the business community voiced its support for increased restrictions, Chattergoon said this would come with financial implications for both businesses and citizens. He said Government must put support measures in place to ensure the business community can survive and citizens can access aid.

“The ABA expresses our gratitude to the Minister of Finance who indicated that tax refunds will be processed efficiently,” Chattergoon said in a statement.

He said Colm Imbert’s acknowledgment that the small and medium enterprises (SME) stimulus loan ($300 million facility) offered in 2020 was under-subscribed came as no surprise, given the bureaucracy involved in the requirements outlined by each financial institution. The ABA notes that while few were able to access the SME loan, the one-time loan disbursement was insufficient to cover costs for which the loan was intended.

“Consideration should also be given for the under-subscribed SME loan to be used as concession on interest routed through financial institutions/banks for existing business loans. These institutions would already have the information of respective businesses and therefore simplifies the process of accessing relief while maintaining their accountability of the funds, he said.”

Chattergoon said banks should offer cheaper moratoriums than what was offered in 2020 this time around, and interest rates on loans, credit cards and bank overdrafts should be reduced by at least 50 per cent.

Chattergoon suggested a number of other measures including waving the tax or penalty for accessing at least 50 per cent of pension or annuity funds early, suspending the disconnection of utilities and waiving penalties for late payment, waiving all penalties on statutory payments for at least six months, removing VAT on specific vitamins and supplements that provide immune support and offering a 100 per cent tax credit on all purchases of renewable energy generation sources to alleviate the burden on utility companies.

Additionally, he said businesses should be charged residential utility rates and offered SME grants to aid in digitising their operations.

He said these stimulus measures should be in place for at least one year rather than three to four months.

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