Tribune Business Reporter: Youri Kemp
The Chamber of Commerce's chairman yesterday called for a "balanced" approach to addressing New Providence's COVID-19 surge that addressed both health and economic concerns.
Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson, hinting that the Chamber and private sector were against the imposition of a total lockdown, told Tribune Business that "all avenues for managing" the outbreak have not been explored and said the economy's "viability" must be protected by allowing companies to operate.
She said: “The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) participated in a stakeholder meeting arranged by the Office of the Prime Minister, where representatives from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and other health professionals revealed recent COVID-19 data.”
"The BCCEC notes the number of new COVID-19 cases and increase in the number of deaths, particularly in New Providence. However, health concerns, along with the economic concerns must be balanced.”
Ms Rutherford-Ferguson added: “It is our position that all avenues for successfully managing the COVID-19 outbreak have not been explored. Businesses and the public require ongoing strategies to adapt to co-existing with COVID-19.
"It is crucial, now more than ever, for all efforts to be made to protect the viability of our economy and livelihoods through managing the continued operation of businesses while protecting lives. The implementation and enforcement of targeted strategies, supported by empirical data, will lend in these efforts.”
“Coexisting with COVID-19 requires a behavioural change,” Ms Rutherford-Ferguson continued, “one which can only be achieved by the enforcement of wearing a mask properly, washing hands frequently and social distancing, as well as a personal choice to reduce non-essential movements.
"The private sector has a vested interest in enforcing protocols at its various establishments, and have demonstrated as much by the cost incurred to retrofit premises in order to be COVID-19 compliant.
"We believe that greater emphasis must be placed on enforcing the adherence to COVID-19 protocols, testing and contact tracing, discouraging large social gatherings and on-going education on the safety protocols and the long-term impacts of contracting COVID-19," the Chamber chair added.
"We also believe that all avenues should be used, by both traditional and non-traditional methods, as an educational platform to reach the population reported as having an exponential increase in cases, being those in the 20-40 age range. Controlling the spread of this virus requires a responsible community effort, one which the private sector remains committed to.”
The Prime Minister, on Sunday night, gave the strongest possible indication that COVID-19 restrictions may be imposed on New Providence and Abaco as early as this week or forthcoming weekend as existing measures "are not achieving the desired results for New Providence and Abaco".
With one out of every 100 New Providence residents having now been infected with COVID-19, Dr Hubert Minnis accused some Bahamians of "letting their guard down" when it came to adhering to the recommended protocols. This was something, he added, that must stop if the economy and wider society were to "consistently" remain open.
With COVID-19 cases straining the public health system, and an unhealthy population that worsens the virus' potentially fatal consequences, the Prime Minister said the Government as working with the World Health Organisation and its regional affiliate to develop a strategy for reducing infection rates on New Providence in consultation with the private sector and national co-ordinating committee.