No beach for Easter

No beach for Easter

Hellshire vendors brace for more pain as COVID-19 forces closure of popular recreation spot

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 09, 2020

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ALL beaches have been ordered closed for the Easter weekend as Government steps up measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The announcement was made last evening by Prime Minister Andrew Holness at a virtual press conference from Jamaica House.

He said he was aware that many Jamaicans looked forward to enjoying themselves at the beach at Easter time, but streesed the importance to have them closed over the weekend as the country battles the deadly COVID-19.

Just yesterday, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer ahead of the prime minister's orders, vendors and fishers who earn their living at the popular Hellshire Beach in St Catherine said they were bracing for a major hit in their pockets as the beach will be closed for the entire Easter weekend, which is usually a bumper period for sales at the popular attraction.

“Effective from Thursday (this evening) at 8:00 pm we will be closing the beach to the public and it will remain closed for the entire holiday period because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation,” said Glaston White, executive member of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen Co-operative, which manages the facility.

“We have made this decision to keep ourselves safe, keep our members safe, and keep the general public safe. We have been working with the police and we made this decision after they asked us to ensure that we adhere to the rules put in place to stop the spread of the virus,” White told the Observer.

He said the police have promised mobile patrols and a presence on the beach to ensure that people do not force their way on to the facility during the holiday period when it is closed to prevent the community spread.

Since the nation recorded its first COVID-19 case last month Hellshire Beach has been closed for recreational purposes, but the restaurants have remained open for takeout service.

This placed a strain on the operators of the several restaurants and bars which operate on the beach. Chairman on the co-operative, Christopher Brown, expects the full closure over the weekend will make things worse for the operators who are already hurting.

“This is the peak or bumper season where we make up for lean times, so this closure will hurt not just the vendors but also our fisher folks. Even the men who scale the fish will get hurt, because it is a chain reaction and it will hurt,” said Brown.

“It will hurt us and, based on the fact that most of our members operate informal businesses, there is little hope that they will get assistance from the Government. I am going through the CARE (COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees Programme) announced by the Government to see if there is anything there to help our members, and it is not looking promising,” added Brown.

He was supported by White, who urged corporate Jamaica to come to the assistance of those who have seen their earnings decline sharply on the beach.

“Knowing the situation with the whole COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeking whatever assistance that is out there that we can garner for our members. We have a lot of elder people living in the village who urgently need assistance and while we are working with our political representatives we need other stakeholders to be part of the assistance,” said White.

Yesterday, operators of several popular food spots at Hellshire including Prendy's On The Beach, The Fish Hut and Aunty Merle outlined tales of woes as they lamented the loss of earnings over the past month, with only a few regular customers calling in their orders and coming in to collect them.

“We nah sell nutten over here. Me have four kids and hungry a kill them over the house. Tomorrow (today) Holy Thursday, the fire would a red and people would a mek them order and thing,” said Seretta Earle, as she pointed to the empty refrigerator in her shop, which would normally be stocked with fish for the Easter weekend.

“How we fi pay bills! Right now the amount a money me owe. Singer want them money, JPS (Jamaica Public Service), water commission, all of them want them money and me still have to buy little food fi me pickney dem. How it ago go?

“Me want the Government fi help wi. Even a little bag a rice me would a tek from the Government right now. Me here on the beach all three, four days, and me no sell nothing. The people on the beach will buy little food from me and if is not them nutten don't sell. Me can't manage,” lamented Earle.

She was supported by Neville Chatrie, operator of Aunt Merle, who noted that this is a weekend when the people who sell at Hellshire would expect to earn a sizeable amount. But with the closure of the beach most persons will struggle to stay afloat.

Prendy's On The Beach operator Junior Hall pointed to the empty benches inside the establishment as he underscored that the single orders he now receives are not enough to pay his bills.

“After this gone maybe mi light and water cut off because we are continuing to get the bills but there is no money to pay them,” Hall told the Observer.

He noted that since the first COVID-19 case it has been tough for the vendors at Hellshire and they are expecting it to get even tougher the longer it takes Jamaica to get rid of the virus.


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