Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar

The Opposition United National Congress does not support a call for harsher lockdowns to treat with the current wave of COVID-19 cases, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday.

The recommendation came from members of the business community who met with Government ministers on Wednesday.

In a statement yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said it can be agreed there is “a grave health risk facing our nation following the massive spike in positive cases after the Easter weekend. However, we must also note the significant hardship that has gripped many families as a result of not being able to earn an income.”

She said she agreed with some of “the very good points” put forward by members of the business sector.

“However, I firmly disagree with the calls for harsher lockdown measures against the working members of the population who are deemed non-essential workers. Many of the businesses calling for harsher lockdown measures against the non-essential workers are in fact exempt and have been in continuous operation over the last four weeks earning income” she said.

She added that the non-essential working population is already “at their wit’s end as to how they are going to meet their rent, light and water bills, mortgage payments, loan instalments, and even grocery bills at the end of the month.”

Persad-Bissessar said “the Government may deem them non-essential but the fact is these citizens’ ability to earn a salary is very essential to their survival”.

She added: “Currently, over 300 thousand citizens and thousands of Venezuelan migrants cannot legally work. Many of these people live pa cheque to pay cheque and have already lost four weeks in wages. Many have no savings and will soon lose everything. It is a sad state of affairs when citizens are forced to choose between working to putting food on the table or facing jail time for trying to earn an honest salary.”

Persad-Bissessar argued that the Government’s plans for relief are not on par with what is needed to immediately relieve the burdens borne by people.

“I call on them to overhaul this system forthwith and put plans in place to fast-track approval and disbursement of grants and other forms of assistance. To deal with the plight of the poor, the Government must engage in much wider stakeholder consultation,” she said.

“More than ever, it is apparent that we are not all in the same boat, only the same storm. Some have yachts, others have rafts, and others are drowning. The people suffering the most are the poor, construction workers, domestic workers, food service workers, migrants etc. Harsher lockdowns will not save them, only vaccines, and allowing them to work again under improved health guidelines will do so.”

She continued: “Harsher lockdowns against non-essential workers and the poor without a holistic plan, without adequate vaccines, without prompt social support and without locking our porous maritime borders cannot reduce COVID-19 but will only increase suffering!”