3121780
Customers wait in line outside KFC on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday after new COVID-19 measures to close restaurants for three weeks was announced by PM Dr. Keith Rowley.

Why are restaurants being targeted?

And where is the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols?

Those were the main questions coming from several business chambers in the wake of the announcement of new restrictions.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday announced that, among other measures, restaurants closed at midnight last night and would have to remain shuttered until May 23.

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce in a statement yesterday after Dr Rowley’s announcement said it believes that the majority of existing measures were already in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“What is needed is robust enforcement of the current measures,” the Chamber said.

The Chamber said that many private sector organizations have implemented the required safety measures to keep their staff and customers safe.

The Chamber also questioned the need to shut down restaurants completely.

“We would like the government to reconsider the position on food and beverage takeaway and delivery services,” the chamber asked.

“The additional restrictions will hurt the compliant businesses while lack of enforcement with the non-compliant businesses and individuals continue to put our citizens at risk,” it said.

“While we understand the necessity for stricter enforcement on private group gatherings, we are very concerned about the extent to which such protocols may be implemented as it may encroach on the privacy and constitutional rights of citizens,” it said.

It also called on the Government to defer taxes and VAT payments or expedite refunds to assist businesses with their expenses during these restrictions.

The Chamber also called for stricter controls of the “porous borders which appear to be contributing to the increase in cases”.

President of the Changuanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce Richie Sookhai yesterday also questioned why there was no consultation with the private sector before these decisions that affected them were taken.

“While we understand the necessary measures that the State must take in terms of enforcing further lockdowns, we do believe some of the measures taken against restaurants are a bit stringent and could be re-examined,” he said.

Sookhai said that restaurants were operating under the social distancing regulations and were “already struggling” only now to face complete closure.

“While we understand the need to reduce congregations, the kitchens can remain open for curbside or takeaway,” he said.

Sookhai also questioned why a curfew system was not being considered for restaurants instead.

“There are a lot of restaurants that have purchased produce for the weekend, for the week. What is going to happen now?” Sookhai asked.

Head of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) Gregory Aboud had similar sentiments. He called for more clarity with regards to the science behind the decision to close some businesses while others are allowed to remain open.

He said that there was going to be a “disruptive effect” on people’s livelihoods.

“There are those in society that are equally vulnerable to the dramatic downturn in income that is being caused by the restrictions,” he said.

“It is worrisome,”’ he said.

Aboud said that he received “many calls” from people looking for clarity from the Government and the Ministry.

“About the scientific reasons that explain why certain businesses are closed and some allowed to remain open. If we can understand it would probably assist in the acceptance of these new restrictive measures,” he said.

“There is a bit of confusion and lack of understanding regarding the choices being made and how those choices are made,” he said.

“Why being in a restaurant or a bar poses such grave danger as opposed to other activities which are being allowed to continue,” he asked

Meanwhile, Jai Leladharsingh, head of the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers said that the new lockdown will be “detrimental to businesses”.

He too said that it was the unchecked movement of migrants through the porous borders that was adding to the rising COVID-19 numbers.