BUSINESS leaders say the end of the state of emergency (SoE) brings to bear the reality that Trinidad and Tobago must learn to live with covid19 for the long term.
Weighing in on the issue on Sunday were Trent Restaurants Ltd chairman Peter George, Greater Confederation of Regional Chambers co-ordinator Jai Leladarsingh and Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce president Kiran Singh.
At a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre on Saturday, the Prime Minister announced that the House of Representatives will sit on Wednesday to lift the SoE on the same day.
Dr Rowley acknowledged the national vaccination programme had stalled and occupancy in the parallel health care system was around 86 per cent, with most patients being unvaccinated.
While all this shows that TT is in a dangerous place where covid19 is concerned, Rowley said, "The automatic response is not to shut the country down. The response is to work harder to live with the virus."
George said, "It's long overdue. We cannot be consumed by the covid19."
He said virus was not something that TT can run away from. "We have to live with it. You cannot put everything aside and say covid19 and just press 'Stop' on everything else."
George did not know what breathing room the SoE gave with respect to dealing with the covid19 pandemic.
"It has put us back to square one, exactly where we are, 20 months later – billions in economic destruction."
George expressed concern about the latest figures with respect to covid19 deaths. "What needs to happen now is another type of approach."
He accepted Rowley's statement about burnt-out medical personnel and the tremendous work they have been doing to battle the pandemic and try to keep the population safe for the last 20 months.
But, George observed, "There are burnt-out citizens and burnt-out businesses. Yes, there is a collapse of the medical system, but there is also a collapse of our economic way of life and our livelihoods.
"When you shut down an economy, naturally you are going to have tremendous economic repercussions."
He said with the lifting of the curfew, businesses would be able to operate as they normally would.
He did not know how effective the covid19 safe zones, established during the pandemic to allow fully vaccinated people to access certain businesses, have been.
George’s restaurant chain includes Trotters, Buzo, Amara, Blue Star Diner, and Tommy’s Restaurant. Under the public health regulations, in-house dining in restaurants is permitted to fully vaccinated people.
"The first incarnation of the safe zones did nothing from our perspective."
He reiterated the major issue which must be addressed immediately is the medical issue.
"We continue to work as hard as we can to get people vaccinated within the ambit of the law and practise in as safe environments as we can."
George added, "We have to face our demons now and face the reality of what this (covid19) is.
"The time is now for people to make some smart, courageous and individual behavioural decisions to face this thing frontally and get ahead of this, as a human race, as a society and as a country, as opposed to try to avoid it."
He warned any further socio-economic damage going forward could be irreparable. With the public health regulations being the guiding covid19 protocols once the SoE is lifted, George was baffled about why one of the regulations mandates members of the same family to be masked when they are together in the same vehicle. He was equally baffled why there was no pushback from citizens about this.
George said this law was absurd, unfair and based solely on the inability of the authorities to tell the difference between a PH taxi and ordinary people driving in vehicles they own.
Leladarsingh said, "It is a welcome move to lift the SoE.
"The SoE served little to no purpose and was disastrous for many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and family-based businesses." He said under the SoE, "from an economic standpoint, the whole situation was grossly mismanaged.
"There were business closures, many people became unemployed and the business sector got little to no support from the Government.
"This has set the stage for a loss in confidence for making any future investments due to this high level of uncertainty and this has exacerbated any future growth in this sector."
He said with the SoE being lifted, bars and restaurants could "fully operate and persons can find employment to an extent."
Leladarsingh also hoped there will be rigorous compliance in the covid19 safe zones so they function as they were intended to.
Singh said the lifting of the SoE is "welcome news for the entire country." He was optimistic the food, beverage and entertainment sectors would be the first beneficiaries of this.
With the removal of the curfew, Singh said businesses will have to revert their operations to what they were before the SoE.
"This will increase employment levels, bringing it closer to pre-pandemic levels."
While essential manufacturing was allowed during the SoE, Singh said the parts of the manufacturing sector which were not operating can now do so.
However, he was concerned that crime could increase once the SoE and associated curfew were lifted.
"Crime was at comparatively lower levels during the pandemic due to the lockdowns, the SoE and curfew."
Noting Christmas is traditionally a booming period for businesses, Singh hoped there would be joint police-army patrols to help maintain law and order during this period.
He was also hopeful with the members of the new Police Service Commission to be sworn in soon, it would not be too much longer before a substantive commissioner of police is appointed.
On the safe-zone initiative, he said it had varying degrees of success.
"Cinemas and gyms appear to have high success with the safe zones."
Singh said while restaurants have been able to successfully operate as safe zones, "the same cannot be said for food courts."
The customer base for many shopping malls, he continued, is their food courts. "The safe zone policy for food courts needs to be tweaked to make it less discriminatory."