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Business owners say Gov’t had no choice on COVID restrictions, but…


MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Three leading business operators here — Simone Spence-Johnson, Lyden “Trevor” Heaven, and hotelier Peter Campbell — agree that the Government had no choice but to restore strict measures to curb spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, Heaven, head of the FESCO service station group, has argued that much trouble could have been avoided if the Government hadn’t blundered by easing restrictions “too much, too quickly” back in June.

Early last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness responded to a new surge in COVID-19 cases by reimposing an 8:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew on weekdays and tightening other measures under the Disaster Risk Management Act.

In June, as COVID-19 cases dropped and amid growing calls for an easing of restrictions, the Government relaxed restrictions which saw curfew hours running from 11:00 pm to 5:00 am. The Administration and also loosened other measures such as gathering restrictions.

According to Heaven, “it was inevitable from the get go” that there would be a new surge once the restrictions were drastically eased in June. He cited two reasons. “One is the emergence of the Delta variant that is spreading like wildfire [around the globe] and the second thing is that … the vaccination of the Jamaica population was less than five per cent. Most jurisdictions, when they open up like that you have vaccination in the order of between 50 and 70 per cent.”

While emphasising that he understood the pressures on the Holness-led Administration because of the stifling effect of restrictions on businesses and the entertainment sector with the latter largely shut down for a year and a half Heaven said the Government’s decision to ease the restrictions when it did was “ill-timed and inappropriate”.

“I understand the dilemma that the Government faced at the time to have opened up, but I believe it was too much too quickly at the time. I would have suggested that it be done gradually over time. He [Holness] has pretty much back-pedalled on all of what he has done,” Heaven argued.

Spence-Johnson, president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said members of her organisation had adapted to the measures.

“Based on the previous curfews, they figured out how to work with the restrictions. I think the businesses that are most affected are night life [places] like the restaurants and chill spots that get most of their traffic after work or on the weekend,” said Spence-Johnson, who is director of operations at Blue Ember, a digital/graphic design company.

“They [business operators in Manchester] are working within the realms of what is outlined, because we really want to see this thing come to an end. We just have to adhere to whatever protocols are set,” she added.

Campbell, the managing director of Golf View Hotel, said while he understands the reasoning behind the measures, he is eager to hear of Government assistance for affected businesses.

“We obviously understand why the measures are taken and we don’t oppose those measures. However, consideration, I think, should be given to businesses that are suffering as a result of the pandemic and the negative implications that come with the pandemic. So I would like to hear from the Government more being done to assist …” said Campbell.

Heaven observed that the entertainment sector, which had lobbied hard for an easing of the measures, was now being hit especially hard by the re-imposition of the restrictions.

“The very same entertainment sector is now shut down even more so than before. A lot of the people who had actually gone ahead and started to plan for big events have now had to back-pedal as well, losing quite a bit of money,” said Heaven.

He said the increased spread of the virus could endanger the reopening of schools in September for face-to-face classes.

“I don’t believe that at the end of these two weeks it is going to be any different from it is now, and the other thing that concerns me is the whole matter of the opening up of schools come September,” he said.

“This increased spread goes clearly against the concept of face-to-face. If it is under control as it was before this last announcement, then we would have been in a position where we can reopen…,” he added.

At the same time, Heaven lamented the slow rate of Jamaica’s vaccination programme.

“Vaccination is key. I’m not so sure why it is that Jamaica, amongst all the Caribbean islands, is at the bottom of the list in terms of vaccinations per capita,” he said.

On Friday, 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Kingston from Britain, sparking a vaccination blitz across Jamaica. The authorities say they hope to have 900,000 Jamaicans vaccinated by the end of September.

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