By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government was yesterday warned that Grand Bahama's private sector will suffer "a lot of casualties" if it implements an island-wide COVID-19 lockdown lasting "beyond a week or two".
Greg Laroda, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president, told Tribune Business that the Prime Minister's threat to reintroduce a lockdown by this Friday if the rate of new COVID-19 infections does not improve threatens "a huge setback" for many businesses that had been "limping along" prior to the July 1 border re-opening.
With yesterday's 20 newly-discovered cases making a new lockdown increasingly likely, Mr Laroda urged Dr Hubert Minnis to avoid imposing a "Bimini-type" total shutdown given the "severe impact" this would have on The Bahamas' second largest population centre.
Should the government have to follow through with implementing its plan, he urged it to allow persons to continue grocery shopping and performing other essential tasks rather than "confine persons to their homes".
"We were limping along, and looking forward to the reopening of the borders and relaxation of the restrictions put on a number of businesses not considered essential and not allowed to open during the lockdown," Mr Laroda told this newspaper.
"To be hit with this is disappointing. We obviously understand and sympathise with the prime minister's position, having to balance the health of the nation with the economic recovery. We're hoping, I guess, that a complete lockdown doesn't have the same meaning for Grand Bahama as it did for Bimini. We feel that type of lockdown will really have a severe impact on the island."
Mr Laroda said Grand Bahama businesses and residents would be able to "live for a period of time" with a 24-hour curfew that allowed persons to shop for groceries, but added: "I wouldn't like to see us have a complete lockdown of persons confined to their residences.
"We were struggling and limping up to the point of the borders being opened back up. Is a lockdown going to be the end of the world? I don't think so. We're resilient, and we'll recover, but it's a huge setback right now.
'I'm sure a few of the businesses hoping the economy would be open right now to help them recover, as a result of this, we may end up losing a few more businesses than we have already done," Mr Laroda continued.
"If this is what it takes to get everything under control and learn to live with this virus, because it's not going away any time soon, we have to live with it and do the best we can under the circumstances. It's not welcome, and we're not happy, but from the safety standpoint we can understand what the Government is trying to do."
The surge in COVID-19 cases on Grand Bahama has been blamed on persons rushing to Florida, a virus 'hot spot', as soon as the borders re-opened and the Balearia ferry service resumed. Mr Laroda added that more widespread testing was also likely to lead to an increase in cases, with the onus now placed on how The Bahamas manages the situation.
"The one bright light in this to-date is we have only two persons hospitalised with the virus," he said, noting that this meant the Bahamian healthcare system was not presently being placed under severe strain to cope with the rise in infections.
"At least at present we will be able to deal with it and manage it better because it is not over-burdening our medical care facilities," Mr Laroda said. "Time will tell as to whether there's a lockdown. We don't know where we will be on Wednesday when domestic and international flights are shut down.
"That in and of itself will be a major setback. How long we may be in that situation, we don't know yet. The longer any lockdown lasts the more serious the impact will be. I don't think we can stay in that mode for an extended period of time and and not come out with a lot of casualties.
"We have to play it by ear and see how long it lasts, and how deep any lockdown is. Anything beyond a week or two will have a serious, serious impact."