By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value's chief yesterday blasted the "mischief maker" behind an e-mail falsely claiming the government seized $176,000 worth of masks from it, adding: "We need to fight the virus, not each other."
Besides "categorically denying" the assertions in the widely-circulated e-mail, Rupert Roberts told Tribune Business that Super Value actually donated 100,000 protective medical masks to the Ministry of Health to aid the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
He revealed that Super Value was also seeking to "clear through diplomatic channels" another 189,000-strong mask shipment that is currently in Florida, of which another 100,000 will be offered to the government to ensure better protection for doctors and nurses.
"Dr Duane Sands and myself know the truth," Mr Roberts said in response to the 'fake news' e-mail alleging that the government last Monday seized a container with $176,000 worth of protective face masks that had been destined for Super Value's employees. "We've both spoken to it.
"The facts are that about two weeks ago we were about to get in 120,000 medical masks, so I said to Dr Sands: 'I have this shipment. I'd like to keep 20,000 for myself, and offer the Ministry of Health 100,000'. I know most of his staff, most of his nurses, went through the supermarkets on their way to work and I couldn't imagine them without masks on their job."
Mr Roberts said Super Value had kept sufficient protective face masks for its own needs, adding: "The operations manager has 3,000 in his office, and we have... let's say about another 18,000 available to us. We're in no danger with masks.
"We have another 189,000 in Florida that we're trying to clear through diplomatic channels. There's 100,000 of them that we will offer to the Ministry [of Health], 100,000 medical masks." The Super Value chief voiced optimism that the Government would permit him to use the remainder for the supermarket chain, or permit their sale to banks, "affiliates" and other companies able to continue operating during the lockdown.
"If Dr Sands does not accept my offer, I will put 100,000 [masks] on the shelf and sell it to the public," Mr Roberts added. "Hopefully we will get clearance on the 189,000 and offer some of them to the public.
"This negative e-mail writer is a mischief maker. I don't know what party they belong to, but they don't belong to the FNM, PLP or support Super Value. They're not fighting the virus with us. I hope there's a lesson to everybody: Let's fight the virus, not one another.
"Dr Sands didn't call me. He had no way of knowing we had the masks. I called him. Anything we can do in this crisis to help the Ministry of Health, the Government, that's my duty. Without this viral e-mail going out to the media, the public would have never known that was assisting the Ministry of Health in any way. Dr Sands was not going to tell them, and I wasn't going to tell them."
Mr Roberts, meanwhile, confirmed that plexi glass screens to separate Super Value's cashiers from customers will be installed in the supermarket chain's 13 stores this week in an effort to provide more protection against COVID-19.
"We will have plastic masks for the cashiers as well as paper masks," he added. "It's kind of triple protection for the cashier. They're on the front-line and I salute those brave girls for standing up there in this crisis and serving the public. That's equivalent to what the nurses are doing."