CONVINCED that calls for the opening up of the economy is the right move, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Keith Duncan says it is time to accept that COVID-19 is a part of our new normal and every effort must be made to get on with economic activity while protecting the health of those most at risk.
“At any point in time we could have a spike or spikes as we did with Alorica [the business process outsourcing firm that has been linked to the majority of local cases],” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. “What is important is that we have the capacity to respond and contain them. The coronavirus is a part of our reality and we have to build the capacity to protect our vulnerable and contain the spread, while getting the economy on a recovery path and getting people back out to work both in the formal and informal economy.”
The health ministry has repeatedly stressed the need for caution, saying the country has still not experienced an anticipated spike in cases. As of yesterday, there were 490 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica, an increase of two between Thursday and yesterday. So far, 62 people have recovered. On March 30, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a night curfew for the entire island as his Administration put measures in place to curb the spread of the virus. At the time, there were 36 confirmed cases in Jamaica. The curfew has since had several extensions and modifications and now runs from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am daily.
Yesterday, private sector organisations called for an opening of the economy. The first step, they said, would be a loosening of the islandwide nightly curfew in order to eke out longer working hours, a move which they anticipate will spur economic activity. Their proposal is for the curfew hours to cover the period from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am.
“The Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association of Jamaica and the MSME Alliance are recommending a phased opening of the economy, starting with the reduction of the curfew hours for non-essential services. This measure will allow for more economic activity and workforce productivity – particularly our micro, small and medium enterprises – our most vulnerable that represents over 70 per cent of the economy,” they said in release. “As we look to Jamaica’s economic recovery and continue our efforts to balance lives and livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the first steps that can make an immediate positive impact is an increase in business hours.”
Duncan was unable to provide an estimate of how much revenue had so far been lost by members of the organisations which penned the release.
“When the minister of finance [Nigel Clarke] tables his supplemental budget we will have some indication of that. However, we know it is significant, with some losing all revenues and established companies that supply tourism losing up to 50 per cent or more of revenues due to the total lockdown of our borders,” he told the Observer.
Meanwhile, in addition to their call for the opening of the economy, the grouping also reaffirmed its commitment to the Government’s efforts to curb and contain the disease through observing social distancing, the wearing of masks, and practising proper hygiene.
“We encourage the public to continue to play its part in preventing the spread of the virus as we advance the opening of the economy,” the release added.
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