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Businesses support curfew

Businesses support curfew
Anthony Regisford, the executive director of SVGCIC

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by Bria King

Just over 80 per cent of businesses surveyed agree that a curfew should be imposed in St Vincent and the Grenadines for a limited period of time to combat the spread of COVID-19 locally.

But one half of these same businesses are opposed to the State restricting any business activity during the day.

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Commerce carried out a COVID-19 Impact Survey in early February to assess how members were being affected by the pandemic.

Approximately one third of the Chamber’s membership, which spans a range of sectors, responded to the Survey.

“It was an information gathering exercise that put us in a position to speak to the government, in particular the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister…to give them a deeper and accurate insight in terms of what the business people are feeling and also the sentiments they have about the current conditions and management of the pandemic,” Anthony Regisford, executive director of the SVG Chamber of Industry and Commerce told SEARCHLIGHT this week.

The results of the Impact Survey show that exactly 50 per cent of respondents strongly agree that a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am should be imposed for a limited period of time, not exceeding 21 days.

Another 30.8 per cent agreed with the suggestion, 11.5 per cent were neutral and 7.7 per cent strongly opposed the curfew.

Regisford said he was not surprised by the results, as a curfew in the hours in question did not directly impact the businesses surveyed, but rather businesses that offer entertainment and recreational services.

The executive director also expressed belief that “the thinking there is that the social type activities, entertainment type activities make it difficult for people to follow the protocols”.

“They don’t go hand in hand. Going to a restaurant to dine and going to a bar to relax and have a few drinks, that does not go hand in hand with wearing a mask and social distancing. You can’t eat with a mask on and you can’t drink with a mask on,” Regisford said. “So I believe the concern among the people who strongly agreed with a curfew for 21 days between 8 pm and 5 am had a lot to do with the thinking that you minimise the opportunity for spread, simply because the safety protocols are harder to adhere to…during that kind of activity.”

Health authorities recently declared community transmission of COVID-19 in SVG, following a spike in cases, which began at the end of December 2020. Included in the local clusters of cases are rum shops and gambling sheds.

An additional comment from respondents of the survey noted that the key should be to flatten the current curve and ensure that the processes around testing, contact tracing and retesting, if positive, are managed more succinctly moving forward.

“We have to live with COVID so we need to find a way to stay safe and keep the country functioning as optimally as possible. Key to this is education and controlling the rate of infection,” one respondent said.

More than 65 per cent of respondents – 26.9 per cent strongly agree and 38.5 per cent agree that the sale of alcoholic beverages should be curtailed for a period of 14 days.

Just over 19 per cent remained neutral on this notion while 11.5 per cent disagreed. Only 3.9 per cent strongly disagreed.

Regisford suggested that the responses to this question can be linked to those regarding a curfew, where respondents have potentially made a connection with the sale of alcoholic beverages to social activities.

Further commentary from respondents on curtailing the sale of alcoholic beverages questioned specifically if it was related to the sale and consumption of alcohol in public and whether supermarkets and liquor stores could be exempt.

While there was strong support for the implementation of a curfew, 11.5 per cent of respondents strongly disagreed, while another 38.5 per cent disagreed that the state should restrict business activity as a means of immediately controlling the spread of COVID-19.

“This forces people to seek these services in a shorter window making the effort to limit the spread counterproductive,” a respondent reasoned.

Another respondent said that “if businesses are restricted to essential only, …[fewer] persons should be on the roads, so no need to reduce hours as this might cause a rush and social distancing becomes difficult to Police”.

Regisford told SEARCHLIGHT that the responses, in his opinion, reflect the types of businesses being surveyed and the areas that would affect them most.

He added however, that what was made abundantly clear through the exercise was that “the businesses surveyed certainly feel that the protocols, the safety protocols need to be adhered to and there is a call to tighten up with the enforcement of it”.

One respondent expressed that the compliance with the protocols was not strong, even though there has been an observed increase in the wearing of face masks in public.

Another called for a joint exercise in planning economic resurgence in anticipation of a satisfactory control of the virus.

“Government should not attempt to do so alone, especially when you consider that there will be a “new normal awaiting us,” the respondent said.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in SVG was recorded in March 2020, local businesses have been affected in various ways due to the pandemic.

While some businesses are managing to remain afloat, others have been plagued by issues of revenue loss, layoffs and complete closures.

According to the impact survey, some businesses have recorded losses in excess of 7.5 per cent in January 2021 when compared to January 2020.

“I think that the Chamber recognises that these are challenging times. We certainly want to continue to engage the government to see how best conditions or things can be done to make the conditions easier to navigate,” Regisford said.

The executive director told SEARCHLIGHT this week that these are not happy times for businesses and “we certainly need to look for creative ways to keep life ticking over, the life of the businesses ticking over and to protect the people we employ, protect their jobs”.

And in order to achieve this, an “all hands on deck” approach needs to be taken, with the inclusion of the government.