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Do it now!

Manufacturer recommends full reopening of economy, parish by parish

Executive editor - publications

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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A local manufacturer has urged the Government to immediately adopt a targeted approach to a full reopening the economy, arguing that it can be done in phases — parish by parish — in order to prevent the country descending into disorder sparked by frustration from job losses because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The suggestion by Quality Incorporations VII Ltd Director Krishna Vaswani is that the Government starts reopening the economy in parishes where there are few cases of the novel coronavirus.

“Take the north coast, for example. From St Ann all the way back around to St Elizabeth, that's less than five per cent of the overall cases in Jamaica,” Vaswani stated in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week.

He also noted that Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and Clarendon have the highest number of cases, but there has been a gradual relaxation of the measures implemented by the State to stem spread of the virus since March when the first case was reported.

Data published by the Ministry of Health and Wellness on its website show that up to yesterday afternoon Kingston and St Andrew had recorded 130 cases of COVID-19, St Catherine had 303, while there were 35 cases in Clarendon.

St Ann had 20 cases; Trelawny, 1; St James, 9; Hanover, 1; Westmoreland, 2; and St Elizabeth 5.

The data also show that up to yesterday Jamaica had 552 cases, nine deaths, and 211 recoveries.

Last week, community bars were allowed to reopen, but under strict measures designed to prevent possible spread of the virus. Equally, churches, which were never ordered closed, were given the green light to have more than 10 worshippers at any one service. However, they have to observe physical distancing and sanitisation protocols.

Also, the Government last week announced a relaxing of the work-from-home order, effective June 1.

Vaswani, in an effort to strengthen his argument, drew comparisons between some of Jamaica's parishes and Caribbean islands — namely Antigua, St Lucia, and The Bahamas — that have already announced dates for the reopening of their economies.

“If we treat each of our parishes like a country in the Caribbean that has been gradually opening and have announced opening, I think that will send a very good message to each and every business person within those parishes to say let us work with our respective municipalities and open accordingly,” he said.

“What is it going to take for Jamaica to come up with a solution? Do we say, 'Okay, we know that the north coast and that belt in the west have a very low rate [of COVID-19 cases]. Do we open modestly?' If you break up Jamaica... and say, for example, St Ann is like Antigua, Trelawny and Montego Bay are like St Lucia, they're opening. Why can't we open? Why is Jamaica going to be the last one? We should not be the last one,” Vaswani insisted, adding that tourism and the business process outsourcing sectors account for approximately 110,000 direct jobs combined.

Asked for a response to people who warn that a full reopening the economy could result in further spread of the virus, Vaswani said: “All the supermarkets have been open; all the banks have been open. People have been going to banks and supermarkets. They put on a mask. The World Health Organization has said if you wear a mask you're 60 per cent less likely to get it [COVID-19], right? Now, worshippers were adamant to get out and go to their place of worship. What was the report? The people... are protecting themselves.”

He said he was not expecting the Government to glibly reopen the country's borders simply to say to the world, “Yes, we're open.” At the same time, he argued that no one would be flying to a destination without the assurance that they would be safe.

“I'm a parent. I'm not going to go anywhere with my children that I don't feel safe. We are human. You are only going to go where you are comfortable,” Vaswani said, while commending the Government for its handing of the COVID-19 crisis.

Businesses, he insisted, have adjusted. “We have been put through protocols since March 10. We have had to buy sanitiser, we have had to get Lysol, we have had to sanitise businesses, implement social distance rules, spent thousands of dollars on masks, put in extra security — all of these things. But we are reaching to a point where it brings me back to a great song by Bob Marley – Burning And Looting.

“Do we want burning and looting? No. Do we want a second wave of this? No. But people have their own sense of responsibility. There's a traditional Jamaican saying, 'Who can't hear will feel.' You really think people in Jamaica want to feel COVID? But, you don't want your society to take matters into their own hands. If we do not get this economy back on track it's going to be burning and looting, and nobody wants that. Nobody, from top straight down to bottom,” he said.

“We are sapiens; if we do not move we're lost. If God wanted us to stay still, he would have made us a tree. God never wanted us to stay still. God wanted us to move. Now is the time to move.”

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