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Private sector in St Vincent warns that lockdown could hurt more than COVID-19

Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases among Vincentians, the private sector has insisted that any decision to introduce lockdown measures be based on facts and not emotion, even as it warned that a shutdown of the country could cause more pain than the pandemic itself.

Executive director of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Industry and Commerce Tony Regisford, speaking on a radio programme here, said shutting down the economy could have far-reaching implications and is not a decision that should be made in “an irrational or emotional way”.

He warned that if there was a lockdown “without putting everything in the balance, we could be creating more pain in the medium term than the COVID itself”.

An aerial view of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines. (File photo)

“But . . . if it is determined that that is the position that we are at, then, clearly, the private sector just has to comply,” Regisford added, stressing that guidance on that should come from “the people who are advising the authorities in terms of what’s safest or what’s best”.

Since December 28, 2020, 120 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded among nationals with no local travel history.

However, 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.

Since March 11, 2020, when the global outbreak of COVID-19 was deemed a pandemic, St Vincent and the Grenadines has detected 249 cases of the highly contagious virus.

A section of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines (Photo: World Atlas)

Of those, 106 persons have recovered and 143 cases remain active. Four individuals are in hospital receiving treatment and the country has recorded no COVID-19 deaths.

“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,” Regisford said.

“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 would be “wide-ranging implications” if the country reached 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.

The private sector leader said no business would like to see its means of income shut off, which would be the case if the country went into lockdown in an attempt to deal with the latest spike.

He added that a lockdown would also not be welcomed by workers who could 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 shut out your means of income,” he said.

Regisford identified some of the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic had presented for the business community.

“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, noting that was 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.”

Additionally, the Chamber leader said, “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.”

He also 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,” Regisford said

“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.”