The private sector says it is in no position to determine whether lockdown measures should be enforced in St. Vincent and the Grenadines amidst a spike in local cases of COVID-19.
Tony Regisford, executive director of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said that shutting down the economy could have far reaching implications and is not a decision that should be made in “an irrational or emotional way”.
Since Dec. 28, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded 120 cases of COVID-19 among nationals with no local travel history.
The Ministry of Health has not used the term “community spread” amidst the development, saying that the cases are under investigation and that five clusters have been identified.
The country had detected 249 cases of the viral illness since March 11, 2020, the same day that the pandemic was declared.
Of those cases, 106 persons have recovered from their illness and 143 cases remain active.
Four persons are in hospital receiving treatment and the country has recorded no COVID-19 deaths.
Regisford’s comment on the most recent development on WE FM’s “Issue at Hand” on Sunday, saying:
“Let me say first and foremost, the private sector is in no position to say whether there should be a shutdown of the country or not. I think that is a decision that is guided by the facts; that’s the people who are monitoring the COVID situation and advising the authorities.
“I think that is squarely in their hands and they are going to base a decision like that on the evidence that they have before them. In other words, they would follow the science. It is not an easy decision for any government to make to say ‘I am going to shut the economy down.”
Regisford said there are “wide-ranging implications if we have to get to that stage.
“So, what I would say upfront is that it is a measure that we would not like to get to because of the implications and it should not be done as a knee-jerk reaction to what we may think are indications that we need to lock things down.
“So I will want to urge the people who are making these decisions to think long and hard about it and measure it carefully before responding in an irrational or emotional way.”
He said that no business would like to see its means of income shut off, as would be the case if the country goes into lock down in an attempt to quell the latest spike.
Lockdown, he further stated, would be unwelcomed by workers who may lose their source of income.
“If you are employed, you would not like to lose your job. If a business owner is running a business and that’s their means of income, clearly, you don’t want to have to have to shut out your means of income.”
Regisford said the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic presents to the business community are many.
“On the one hand, … even without a shutdown, you have a situation where in some sectors, there is suppressed demand for your services, which means that essentially you are getting or doing less business than is the norm.”
He said that is the case in the hospitality sector, which is directly linked to the travel industry.
“So if that is happening, there is little or no demand for that service and, therefore, their income stream just about dried up, so that’s already a challenge.
“There are downstream businesses that while not directly in the hospitality sector, downstream to the hospitality business, they depend on the hospitality sector being active to do business.
“And similarly, they are going to be affected and have been affected. And while not as adversely as the hospitality businesses themselves, because they depend on the hospitality sector being active, clearly, they would feel some impacts, so that’s already a challenge,” Regisford said.
He noted the suppressed demand for leisure services.
“Now, if you look at what happens in the bigger economies, we see that entertainment, sports, music, where you have live concerts, all those sorts of things because of the COVID protocols, those activities are curtailed or at least they happen under different conditions so patrons are not able to go to big parties, fetes and so on.
“Clearly, that’s affecting somebody’s income and all those persons who are dependent on that sector for employment, they are going to be affected,” Regisford said.
“If we deliberately made a decision to shut the place down, if we just do that without putting everything in the balance, we could be creating more pain in the medium term than the COVID itself.
“But I am not saying that if the science or the people who are advising the authorities in terms of what’s safest or what’s best, I am not saying that if it is determined that that is the position that we are at, then, clearly, the private sector just has to comply.”