By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value’s president has suggested that all persons aged over 65, and those with pre-existing medical conditions, remain at home to facilitate the Bahamian economy’s COVID-19 re-opening.
Rupert Roberts, pictured, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas should focus on protecting those groups most at risk from the virus by permitting only “able bodied soldiers” to venture back to work with all the necessary health protocols in place.
Mr Roberts, who would be in that 65 years-old and over age group, said: “I know they have to balance the medical with the economic. That’s a big job and hard to do, but I think everybody seems to be coming to the conclusion that to open the country up, have the over 65s step aside, and people with issues step aside, and that the able bodied soldiers fight through COVID-19 and rebuild the economy.
“Stay out of it and let the able bodied go out there and practice the sanitising, practice the social distancing wearing the masks, and really I don’t think there’d be a problem if we did that. The problem is just 1 percent of the country practices social distancing. I had to shout to people to get away from me.”
Elderly persons, and those with pre-existing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and respiratory illnesses, are considered to be more susceptible to life-threatening COVID-19 infection because their immune systems are weaker.
While some observers may feel there is merit to Mr Roberts’ suggestion that these groups remain at home as much as possible, enforcing it would likely be impossible. They would also be vulnerable to catching the virus from younger family members, and experience worldwide has shown that younger, “able bodied” persons are not necessarily immune from COVID-19’s worst effects.
Mr Roberts, meanwhile, confirmed he had requested that food store opening hours be extended - a wish the Government granted at the weekend. The Prime Minister, in his national address on Sunday, said food stores are permitted to open from 7am to 7pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as opposed to the previous 5pm close, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays.
The initial Saturday closing had been 1pm. “The hours they had given us were far too short,” the Super Value president explained. “We normally open for 96 hours per week. They gave us about 32, and we asked for 52 or 54, Specifically, we asked to go from 5pm to 7pm.”
Tribune Business calculations show the Government initially allowed food stores to be open for 36 hours per week, but the extensions have increased this to 47 hours total. Mr Roberts said Super Value learned of the change too late on Saturday to remain open until the new closing, and instead used the opportunity to restock.
“It’s going to be a lot smoother,” he added of the extended hours. “The cashiers and managers described the short hours as panic. We just couldn’t manage the short hours. To stretch it to four days, 7am to 7pm and 7am to 6pm, makes a lot more sense.
“If we are open for four days and closed for three it allows us restock on the three days that we’re closed. There were too many lines and it was too difficult to keep social distancing. That’s what we were worried with. Shorter hours tender to cluster people together instead of social distancing.”