By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
FAMILY Island restauranteurs like Dwight Hart are frustrated with the one-size-fits-all COVID-19 restrictions that will force him to shutter his business for two weeks even though Exuma only has three confirmed cases of the virus.
Mr Hart told The Tribune he burned through his emergency reserves to keep himself and his employees afloat during the last lockdown period and does not have the finances to pay staff for the next two weeks.
His restaurant, the YOLO Grill and Hookah Bar, is attached to the Exuma Palms Hotel and employs ten people.
“I’m not clear on the position of my business,” he said yesterday as the country awaited release of the new emergency powers order. “If we have to close that means we will be sending staff home for two weeks. We’re going to have guests in hotel because we have some folks who are working on the road project who are staying with us and a part of the contract means feeding them so I assume we will be allowed to do that. But that’s a very small percentage of what it takes for us to stay in business. There’s no way I’m going to carry employees for two weeks. It is going to be heartbreaking to tell people they are probably going to look at two weeks of unpaid leave and very limited work.”
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the nationwide lockdown will be reassessed in two weeks, fuelling complaints of Family Island residents who want different treatment from COVID-19 hotspots like New Providence and Grand Bahama.
“I’m challenged to understand why we’re still locking down the entire country when, as far as we’ve been told, there’s not rapid cases running loose in Exuma,” Mr Hart said. “It’s kind of confusing. Why does Exuma, Long Island, Ragged Island, Rum Cay, any other island have to be going through the same severe restrictions as an island like Grand Bahama and New Providence that we know have been having positive cases for the last two weeks? We’re right back to square one where we don’t have clarity as to the mechanisms behind the scene that determines why it’s necessary for the entire country, every little rock and cay, to go through these very restrictive measures again.
“I certainly couldn’t sustain another long lockdown period. I’m at the end of my rope as it relates to emergency resources. I’m right back to having anxiety levels go through the roof when I thought I put that behind me. And again, without having any specific timeline is making it even worse. It’s very difficult to be in business as this stage in the game. I could only imagine how it is for people who didn’t have that particular luxury of having emergency funds to get through the first period and now have to look at doing this again. The casualties in business if we don’t get out of this soon will be high.”
Mr Hart said he does not yet have to think about closing down permanently, a fact he admits leaves him “with a lot of trepidation.”
“I could be out of business,” he said. “We just came through a hurricane which thank God we didn’t have a lot of damage. Just think if we were to get another storm during this period that can actually do physical damage. After having used all your cushion to keep people employed during the last few months, it’s really, really scary.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Eldon, the manager of the Green Parrot restaurant in New Providence, said business this year has declined by sixty to seventy percent.
“It’s not good for us,” she said yesterday. “It was difficult getting through the first lockdown. We worked hard to get everything up and running and follow all the rules that were put in place. We brought back 95 percent of our staff, now we get shut down again.”
Ms Eldon said Green Parrot staff will again be placed on temporary leave and have to get money through the government unemployment assistance programme.
“Most staff already gone through their NIB unemployment benefits,” she said. “We have a somewhat large property and to open up outdoor dining and to open inside when they allowed us, that was costly. We were doing pretty well when we took indoor and outdoor dining.”
She said: “I do believe we will eventually get back up and running. It depends on how long this continues to go on for. If they continue to do constant lockdowns that’s when it gets a little bit scary. It depends on how long they keep doing this because now we’re back to losing money every month.”