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A once-busy section of Papine in St Andrew, Jamaica, looks like a ghost town on Thursday (April 2), the second night of the all-island curfew imposed by the Government to slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo: JIS)

Jamaica’s lockdown blues

A once-busy section of Papine in St Andrew, Jamaica, looks like a ghost town on Thursday (April 2), the second night of the all-island curfew imposed by the Government to slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo: JIS)

Players in the manufacturing and exporting sectors say they hope the Government does not extend the lockdowns, which expired earlier today, because of the impact it is having on productivity, with no visible signs that it is helping to reduce the new cases of novel coronavirus infections.

John Mahfood, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) and the chief executive officer (CEO) of Jamaican Teas is calling on the Government to re-evaluate the current situation. William Mahfood, chairman of the Wisynco Group, while sympathetic with the “uneviable task the Government has to manage the pandemic”, said he believes the no-movement days should be discontinued because “there comes a point where, if you try and condense peoples lives in three or four days, it becomes very difficult”.

John Mahfood, president, Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (Photo: Facebook @JMEAlimited)

Both businessmen were giving comments on a recent survey conducted by the JMEA which showed that up to “80 per cent of members [are] experiencing a decline in productivity”. The survey, which was released yesterday to the media, outlined that JMEA members attributed the decline in productivity to several challenges, including scaled down operations, inability of staff to access public transportation to get to work on these [no-movement] days, as well as the closure of food outlets on these days, all of which have negatively affected members and their employees.

The survey, undertaken at the end of August, reported some other key challenges experienced by members of the productive sector, including a projected 83 per cent decline in revenues during the lockdown period, which the members said they were expecting to see, while other members indicated they were unsure of how their revenues would be affected. This as companies reported increased challenges in servicing clients on these days, while others had to cancel or reschedule order commitments to customers. Other key data show some 40 per cent of JMEA members reported significant hindrances in obtaining goods from suppliers on these days.

“Even though we are able to deliver goods during the no-movement days, to a large extent our customers can’t get their employees to come out to work because of a lack of public transportation. So, invariably, what happens is that only a handful of really large customers are able to manoeuvre during those no- movement days and receive goods,” observed William Mahfood.

William Mahfood, chairman, Wisynco Group (File photo)

He added, “I’m not saying the Government didn’t need to take measures, but I believe that the measures that were necessary would have to be along the lines of shortened hours, maybe without closing off a no-movement day and becoming a little more aggressive on enforcement.”

Under the current Disaster Risk Management orders first issued by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on August 19, no-movement days were to be observed from Sundays through to Tuesdays, weekly. Through the measure, which was further extended for an additional two weeks on September 1, the Government and health officials are seeking to curb a third wave of the highly contagious novel coronavirus, following a sharp rise in the number of cases and deaths locally. Since the lockdowns began about a month ago, the country has recorded almost 17,000 new cases of the coronavirus and approximately 400 deaths.

The measure has been heavily criticised by citizens and several business owners who have vociferously complained that the existing two and a half (due to half-day closures on Fridays) workdays were not sustainable for the growth of businesses and the economy. John Mahfood, who was commenting on the findings of the survey, said that the four weeks of three and a half days down have been negatively impacting members, especially the micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness recently implemented no-movement days which begin Saturday at 8:00 pm and end on Tuesday at 5:00 am. (File photo)

We understand that the Government is in a precarious position at this time as it tries to balance the interest of protecting lives while safeguarding the operations of the economy. We now, therefore, believe that it is time for the Government to re-evaluate the current situation with a view to reducing the lockdowns,” he said.

Metry Seaga, a former JMEA president and the managing director of Jamaica Fiberglass Products, a contract fabricating company, agreed. “Whilst we have been able to move and operate [on no-movement days, because of being exempted], transportation has not been easy for workers and the crowding up on the Friday evening and Saturdays is counterproductive.”

John Mahfood said that, while there was no quick fix to the problem at hand, [the] Government has to prudently navigate its management of the crisis, as the current measures cannot continue because they are hurting businesses. “We are not saying that we know the solution, but what we saying is that the Government just cannot continue another week of the same thing; it has to be radically changed and we hope that even if they change it to opening five days from Monday to Friday, that they even take into account an extension of the curfew hours to maybe 8pm, among other things,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday in an interview.

He, however, underscored the need for the authorities to strictly enforce the current measures of mask wearing, social distancing, and adhering to curfew hours whilst urging Government to significantly increase the number of vaccination sites across the island.

Meanwhile, William Mahfood, in concurring with the findings of the study, said that, while his company may not have suffered the extensive level of reduction in productivity due to the provision of support for staff, he was likewise calling on Government to create a more viable option going forward.

“I do believe that the Government has a challenge because of the increased cases and the issues with the health sector, but I believe that the shorter days and the no-movement days create more congestion during the days when people are out on the street, and so my recommendation is that Government return to regular movement days and maybe reduce hours and put restrictions in place for movement, like staggered times for people of different ages to go out,” he told the Business Observer.

“I really hope they don’t continue the lockdowns any further. I think many people have seen that the lockdowns are not having the sort of desire that they were hoping. The numbers right now, in terms of cases, don’t seem to be improving, not materially in anyway,” he continued.

“The Government is in a very, what I would call, unenviable position now, and they have to make the calls, but the reality is that we can’t lockdown and we need to not only ensure that people’s health is top of mind, but we also have to ensure people can get to their day-to-day living. Ultimately, the Government will be measured by the number of people who come out of this pandemic alive and healthy and the condition of the economy,” he also said.