News Report: New restrictions will be damaging for businesses

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

The Nassau Guardian, October 8th, 2020 reported by Paige McCartney: The 24-hour curfew on weekends, and other restrictions announced by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday, may lead to more harm than good, Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) Chairperson Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson said, noting that the measures will lead to overcrowding at businesses and the further spread of COVID-19 while impacting revenues during a critical time.

Minnis announced a number of new restrictions for New Providence and Abaco in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the further opening of the tourism industry.

He said the measures, which are set to come into effect tomorrow at 7 p.m., include 24-hour weekend curfews and a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekday curfew.

The weekend curfews will begin on Fridays at 7 p.m. and last until 5 a.m. on Mondays. However, because of the National Heroes Day holiday, the curfew will end at 5 a.m. on Tuesday for the upcoming weekend.

Additionally, food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, construction sites and laundromats will not be permitted to operate during weekends; and all retail businesses and restaurants – except food stores — may only offer curbside services during weekdays before the new curfew.

Rutherford-Ferguson said although the restrictions announced are not as harsh as the total lockdown anticipated by many following the prime minister’s national address on Sunday, it is equally as damaging for the business community.

“The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation notes that another lockdown was not announced,” she told Guardian Business.

“We also note that there were steps taken to balance the immediate health concerns with the economic concerns. However, the effect of the curfew changes will present some challenges for the business community. We are concerned that the announced restrictions may result in the unintended consequences of overcrowding at businesses, which may lead to virus spread.

“Retail businesses will be impacted as there are practical issues regarding limiting its commercial activity to curbside pickup only, without including appointments. We also acknowledge that many of our members are not able to offer delivery and curbside pickup due to the nature of the goods and services they offer.”

The prime minister also announced that if a business or construction site has an infection rate of 10 percent of the full staff complement, the business or construction site will be closed, and all staff members will be quarantined for the prescribed incubation period of 14 days.

He added, “To encourage compliance with public health protection measures, there will be an amendment to the Emergency Powers Order that causes businesses to be closed for business on their second violation of the orders. They will be closed for 14 days.”

Rutherford-Ferguson said the restrictions are being imposed at a particularly difficult time for the business community, that has already crumbled in some regards under previous lockdown measures.

“Furthermore, having restaurants revert to takeout, curbside pickup and delivery only, in addition to prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining, means that their revenues will be negatively impacted. They will be further impacted by the fact that the new curfews will restrict them from providing services on the weekend and weekday dinner service, which tends to be the most lucrative for restaurants,” she said.

“Ultimately, prohibiting commercial activity on weekends, in general, will impact revenues, and may lead to long lines during the week.”

Earlier this week, the BCCEC met with representatives from the Office of The Prime Minister, the Pan American Health Organization and other health professionals to discuss recent COVID-19 trends and the government’s plans to mitigate.

Following the meeting, the BCCEC stood by its position that all avenues for successfully managing the COVID-19 outbreak have not been explored.

“We join in and underscore the message regarding the importance of enforcement, education, wearing of masks, washing hands frequently and social distancing, with a recognition that vigilance is key. There is no doubt that we all have an individual and collective responsibility, which calls for a community effort, discipline and determination,” Rutherford-Ferguson said yesterday.

“The BCCEC awaits the release of the Emergency Order that will codify the announcements made by the prime minister and will provide further clarity on the restrictions, together with the goals regarding targets and timelines that will be set by the health professionals. Empiricism is what leads to predictability and is a banner point for the business community in establishing and coordinating its commercial plans.

“The steps taken today must be taken with the full knowledge that mitigating the spread of the virus, with the least amount of restrictions to commercial activity for the shortest period of time, is in the best interest of all. The BCCEC remains committed to working with businesses and the government to see how quickly the restrictions can be removed.”

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