The quiet streets of Queen Janelle Commissiong and Frederickin Port-of-Spain void of traffic and pedestrians one day after new COVID-19 restrictions were implemented.

Gail Alexander

Some job losses and permanent closures are inevitable among small and medium businesses which will be unable to fulfil the Prime Minister’s call for the private sector to “carry workers” until the end of the heightened lockdown.

This was confirmed yesterday by Jai Leladharsingh (co-ordinator of the Confederation of 15 regional business chambers).

With hospitals at tipping point with spiking COVID pressures, Government announced rollback to shut down of various sectors which were restricted in the first 2020 COVID wave. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley urged the private sector to make the sacrifice, not look at the financial bottom line and “carry” – continue to keep – their workers during the closures.

Leladharsingh said, “Unfortunately the bottom line which members project is, some businesses may close permanently, others will definitely lay off some staff members expected a more structured programme. The $50m to assist some areas didn’t mention this sector which has no support compared to what other countries gave their small/medium-sized sectors. Street vending is already being affected as supplies are at high cost.’’

Confederation members are hopeful NIS or Health Surcharge is deferred for this quarter at least to ease their financial burden.

In the situation, the Confederation urged Government to doubly ensure vaccine procurement since hospital systems are swaying under COVID pressure and also ensure proper communication of health protocols for the public to understand.

Some people have asked Guardian Media whether markets would open still, whether construction can continue or if hotels can operate. Top police told Guardian Media they’d also received numerous calls asking if “X or Y could operate”.

The Confederation recommended civil authorities undertake action to ensure greater rigorous enforcement of health protocols, accompanied by a communications programme from the Government with strong messages to inform citizens.

SATT stuck

The Confederation encouraged Government to procure vaccines as a top priority and engage with the private sector to acquire the sufficient to fully inoculate the population.

“The Supermarket Association and ANSA McAl Group offered to purchase vaccines. ANSA McAl’s Dr Norman Sabga and SATT president Rajiv Diptee must be commended,’’ the Confederation stated

But SATT’s Diptee told Guardian Media that SATT, an associate Confederation member, has been unable at this point to get a vaccine supplier due to overwhelming demand for vaccines from COVID stressed countries like India.

SATT appealed in March to be allowed to bring in vaccines to its frontline workers and submitted a request to Government. The Health Ministry responded by asking SATT to provide the name of its World Health Organisation–approved vaccine supplier, the local agent who will bring in the vaccines and vaccine administrators.

Diptee said he noted the Prime Minister’s statements that other countries can’t at this point bring in vaccines due to demands by other states.

“We’ve been talking to suppliers and also found the situation in India especially diverted a lot of any kind of capacity for vaccines. There’s no excess currently. This is where we are but will continue talks.’’

Vaccine priority now – Moonilal

UNC MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said vaccines must be a priority now.

“Our hospital capacity is straining under tremendous stress. San Fernando General Hospital’s Accident and Emergency section is bursting with COVID cases including concerns about supplies. There are concerns about Couva Hospital’s staff and water.”

Moonilal said in about a region of five or six constituencies there are about 200 cases.

“But thanks to the Prime minister and Stuart Young, in the south-west peninsula, pirogues are now known as P1 (Brazilian variant ). Targetting the 15 beaches as they said last Sunday is a step in the right direction but too little too late.”

“In our crisis, vaccination is the only solution but they cannot say when or how we’ll get the next million doses needed for herd immunity.

“Government’s operated without moral authority – we saw cases where PNM financiers had 200 plus people at a wedding attended by government officials. Then the Prime Minister ‘invited’ a million people to visit Tobago for Easter. So the country’s leader has undermined T&T’s campaign against COVID. So don’t just bouff people now, focus on getting vaccines.’’