Massive jumps in both COVID-19 numbers and deaths have triggered at least three business chambers to call for tighter restrictions, the implementation of a curfew and an extension of the current lockdown.
The call came first from the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, after it met in an emergency session yesterday to discuss the escalation of COVID-19 cases and its strain on the healthcare system.
In a subsequent media release, the Chamber said it had received many calls from its membership, conducted a survey and based on the collated information, it was determined that the exponential spread of the virus was caused by the “points of contact” where the public interacted.
“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 relation to the Government’s restriction placed up to May 23.
According to the Chamber, some 85 per cent of those surveyed agreed an extension is needed.
“Implement a limited curfew from 9 pm-5 am on weekdays, and 5 pm-5 am on weekends to reduce casual movement of individuals,” the Chamber recommended.
“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.”
The Chamber said that the inter-island transport will have to be considered and allowances made.
It said that some 90 per cent of those polled agreed a limited curfew was needed.
“Further reduce crowd density in all essential businesses, as well as ensure proper crowd control at the entrances to these businesses,” the Chamber said, adding that 79 per cent of its members agreed with that move.
“Review the businesses that are considered essential and open only those that are absolutely necessary for the needs of the citizens,” it added.
The Chamber said 65 per cent of its respondents agreed that the review is necessary.
“Where possible, we recommend the utilisation of curbside and delivery service options to reduce the interaction and movement of individuals,” it said, adding that 92 per cent of those polled agreed with that recommendation.
The Chamber also said additional efforts need to be taken by the business communities to facilitate work from home.
Regarding the vaccination programme, the Chamber said as additional vaccines are made available, they should be given to those working in essential businesses, which 80 per cent of those polled found favourable.
Yesterday, three hardwares announced they were shutting their doors until restrictions were lifted on May 23.
While the Chamber commended their decisions, it called on businesses to ensure that citizens continued to have access to essential services.
Just weeks ago, at the beginning of the month, the Chamber said that more restrictions were not as important as the enforcement of the existing restrictions.
At that time, the Chamber was against the complete lockdown of businesses, calling for the use of curbside or delivery services.
Arima Business Association suggests SoE option
Head of the Arima Business Association Reval Chattergoon shared the T&T Chamber’s sentiment.
Hours before the media release from the T&T Chamber, Chattergoon issued a statement on behalf of his membership calling for similar restrictions and even a state of emergency.
“We believe that further restrictions are imminent and we could continue to support the Government on any measures aimed at preserving lives, even if this amounts to imposing a curfew or state of emergency,” Chattergoon said.
Head of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce Richie Sookhai also agreed with calls for a curfew.
Sookhai has been calling for the implementation of a curfew since earlier this month.
In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Sookhai said that a 10 am to 6 pm curfew should be implemented.
He said this had the added bonus of reducing petty crimes, which are being overshadowed by the COVID-19 reports.
Sookhai referenced Barbados, which implemented a curfew to reduce its own spiking numbers and kept it imposed over the Easter weekend.
But not everyone was convinced further restrictions were necessary.
DOMA: No need to panic
Head of the Downtown Owners and Merchants’ Association (DOMA) Gregory Aboud said while the numbers were concerning, “there was no need to panic.” He once again called for more information on the “science” behind the decision-making.
“We recognise that the circumstances are extenuating and we are deeper in this situation and perhaps further into a crisis than we had previously imagined and therefore, if the authorities, guided by leadership, suggest that a curfew is necessary, then we would certainly, unequivocally support that directive,” Aboud said in a telephone interview.
“I think that there is merit given the trajectory of the current spate of cases in thinking about additional measures to restrict activity.
“I would like to suggest that there is reason to be worried at this time but not a reason to panic.”
He added, “We would be in support of whatever science and the directorship suggests to the Government.”
SATT: Curfew counter-productive
Supermarkets Association of T&T president Rajiv Diptee was also against a curfew.
“We believe it will be counterproductive. A curfew is sending the wrong signal, especially to the remaining operational sectors,” Diptee said.
“Certainly, for hours we saw and felt the negative impacts last year during the lockdown from 6 am to 6 pm.”
Diptee said it was porous borders, illicit trade and pandemic fatigue that was responsible for the spike, coupled with the “lack of adequate vaccinations.”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the restrictions at the beginning of this month and added further restrictions last Friday. The lockdown is expected to be reviewed by May 23 and could either be lifted or extended.
Rowley did not respond to questions about this call from the business chambers. (See page 6)