Discouraging but understandable
Restaurants, entertainment sector bemoan impact of longer curfews hoursWednesday, July 28, 2021
BY DASHAN HENDRICKS
A day after more restrictions were announced to help contain the early stages of a third spike in novel coronavirus cases, businesses, especially quick-service restaurants (QSRs), are counting the cost, even as they say they understand the prime minister had to act to prevent a disaster.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Monday announced longer curfew hours for each day, as he seeks to restrict movement to contain COVID-19 infections which have been running at a rate of 135 new cases daily so far in July. In June when measures were relaxed, new infections averaged 52 cases per day.
Holness admitted the tighter restrictions hurt “certain sectors of the economy...more than others”, particularly QSRs and entertainment, but said the Government had to “act now” to “ensure in four weeks' time we are not seeing a massive increase” in cases.
Up to Monday, Jamaica had recorded 52,141 cases of the disease and 1,179 deaths.
For QSRs, the tighter restrictions come at a time when things were picking up. Thalia Lyn, CEO of the Island Grill chain, said with the last three weeks of relaxed restrictions and curfew hours moving from starting at 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm Mondays to Saturdays, sales were starting to turn around.
“Island Grill's sales go up 10 per cent for every additional hour business can be done at nights, especially on Fridays,” she said.
Lyn told the Jamaica Observer that even though sales were picking up, business was still down 15-20 per cent below 2019 levels.
Looking ahead, with the curfews returning to a commencement time of 8:00 pm, she added that the expectation is that, not just Island Grill but “most restaurants are going to see at least a 20 per cent reduction in sales, because you lose out on your dinner sales”. For Island Grill, dinner sales are usually about 15 per cent more than lunch sales, especially on a Friday.
Her sentiments about the impact of the longer curfews were reflected by Alexx Antaeus, co-founder of Reggae Mill restaurant at Devon House in St Andrew.
“It impacts everyone, but moreso people who rely on night-time to earn a living,” he told the Business Observer. “The 11:00 pm curfew was very excellent. We were starting to see a little bit of an income, not to profit but to at least catch up on the bills which have been piling up over the last year and a half. So, yes, it's a huge impact to be going back to the 8:00 pm.”
Antaeus said after the prime minister's announcement on Monday, he messaged his staff to inform them that hours would have to be cut for the next two weeks.
The entertainment sector, which was shuttered with the onset of the disease last March, reopened earlier this month and was spared another lockdown in the prime minister's announcement. Kamal Bankay, chairman of Dream Entertainment, the operators of the Dream Weekend party series in Negril, Westmoreland, is grateful.
“We at Dream will have to adjust our time for events and still maintain our approved measures for the event,” he said.
Both the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management have outlined measures which the promoters will have to adhere to while keeping the event which must also end before the new curfew hours.
“It's just left to be seen if people will come at the adjusted time. The response so far has been positive, so we are optimistic that people will still want to come and enjoy themselves in a safe way at Dream Weekend with the adjusted time for the holiday time,” Bankay added.
The party series, slated to run from August 5-9 this year, would normally attract approximately 20,000 patrons each year. Total patrons this year will be a fraction of that number with the restrictions in place.
Restrictions Impacting the Economy
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Holness said the decision to not go with tighter restrictions now was borne out of the necessity to ensure the Government strikes the delicate balance between lives and livelihoods in managing the pandemic.
“At some point in time... the Government cannot continue always to be taking these measures which are like a hammer to the economy,” he said in response to queries about the economic impact of more restrictions.
For Jamaica so far, the collateral damage from the restrictions has been clear. A year of COVID-19 restrictions has cost the Jamaican economy $173.2 billion — the equivalent of the estimated expenditure for the health and national security ministries this fiscal year. At the same time, more spending is being undertaken to deal with the pandemic.
Like in the rest of the world, unemployment rose sharply when the first set of restrictions were announced last year. Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica show 151,100 fewer people were working in July 2020 compared to January 2020. The data are normally produced every three months, but no information was released for April 2020 due to pandemic restrictions which prevented a survey from being conducted. Since then, as the economy claws back some of the lost production, 84,400 more people were working than were in a job last July.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had said countries should be prioritising COVID-19 containment over economics at this time but Holness, while staying away from directly commenting on that statement, questioned, “If you put in the measures that are going to contract the economy, where is the budget going to come from” to finance the cost of dealing with the pandemic.
“The WHO statement may be applicable to richer countries which have the wherewithal to borrow or to use other fiscal practices in terms of increased spending, and so Jamaica does not have that luxury... for us it is managing both — the livelihood and economy of the country and health and safety of the people,” he said.
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