The lifting of restrictions on restaurants, cinemas, casinos, gyms, and bars on Monday, allowing them to reopen as safe zones for vaccinated customers only, proved challenging for many of these businesses in Tobago, which remained closed.
According to the Ministry of Health, in a safe zone all staff members must be vaccinated. Customers are also expected to show their vaccination card to enter a safe zone and have one form of ID in their possession while on the compound of a safe zone.
Workers who can’t be vaccinated because they are pregnant, recently recovered from the virus or have any other medical reason can obtain an exemption or deferral certificate from doctors in the public health sector.
Consumption of alcohol at bars and restaurants remain prohibited.
Although there was activity at businesses for the past few days in preparation to reopen, many were still putting things in place to comply with the safe zone protocols.
At Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort in Lowlands, management said the hotel will fully transition into a safe zone from November 1. Until then, the hotel will continue to operate under the existing guidelines.
At Fairways Restaurant at Club House Tobago Plantations, owner Stacia Lindsay said her restaurant has done what is required to operate as a safe zone. However, there was a trickle of customers on Monday. Despite the slow start, Lindsay is optimistic that business will pick up later this week.
Newsday also visited the food court at the Gulf City Mall in Lowlands where outlets only provided take-away service. One business owner said the mall’s management will not be providing seating arrangements for customers until all food outlets in the mall transition to safe zones.
Another tenant said the laws aren’t clear on the way cafeterias at malls are supposed to operate if it is expected to be a safe zone. One gym owner in Canaan, who wished to stay anonymous, said he is trying to provide a safe zone for the vaccinated while also creating a separate space for non-vaccinated clients on the same compound The legality of this arrangement is likely to be challenged.
According to the health regulations, a business owner who permits an unvaccinated person without an exemption entry to the premises is liable to a fine of $25,000. Any unvaccinated person found in a safe zone and does not possess an exemption is liable to a fine of $5,000.
The popular Jade Monkey bar in Crown Point remained closed on Monday, but the casino reopened as a safe zone.
A representative from Jade Monkey could not give a date for the reopening of the liming spot citing issues involving the requirement for vaccinated staff only.
Tele Cruz, owner of Chill Out bar in Crown Point, was also closed owing to issues with unvaccinated staff. "As it is now, I am not a restaurant, so in my case it'll be a 'buy and go.' I'm not sure how that will work – and no one is going to buy a beer and wait for till they reach home to drink it. I'm still going to try because I have backed-up bills and I need income."
Barcode restaurant and bar in Scarborough continued curbside pick-up on Monday. Moon Over Water bar in Mt Pleasant did not operate on Monday. Bars in Scarborough remained closed as well.
Movie Towne Tobago remained closed, but founder and chairman Derek Chin told Newsday all preparation and renovation works are expected to finish soon. The branch is expected to reopen from Thursday. A maintenance worker inside explained that all is in place to welcome vaccinated customers.
Roosters' fast food outlet at Shirvan Plaza continued to operate without in-house dining. One worker told Newsday, for now, the outlet will not operate as a safe zone. Just last week, a few workers quit as the business looked to comply with the safe zone requirements.
Last week, owner Jeffrey Azar told Newsday he is in the process of hiring staff. On Monday he said, “We couldn’t do anything because the staff isn't fully vaccinated. They must wait two weeks to be fully vaccinated. They have all been vaccinated but the government won’t accept that.”
Head of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George called on the government to help Tobago businesses roll out the safe zone system. “I endorse the call of the business owners who are seeing difficulties with the safe zone systems. How do businesses deal with irate customers who don’t have proof of vaccination?
“While it may seem attractive, the practical implementation creates too many hurdles for business operations to run practically. We urge the government to assist businesses with understanding the policy, implementation and policing.”
Calls to the head of Tobago police division ACP William Nurse went unanswered.