By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE head of Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce is worried about the impact of the upcoming two week lockdown on non-essential businesses, saying the storm-battered island “really needs a break”.
Gregory Laroda spoke with The Tribune just after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the island will be on a 14-day lockdown beginning tomorrow, with only essential businesses and exempt operations open.
“The two-week lock down will seriously and negatively impact our economy and our storm recovery,” Mr Laroda said. “We just recently came off weekend lock down and 24-hour curfew. Then back to curfew from 10pm to 5am and so a lot of companies were just trying to recover, from a business standpoint, from those restrictions that were in place and then now to be hit with this.
“The extent, I’m going to say, will be far reaching. I know there were a lot of companies that were struggling just prior to this and so now that this has come back for us to be faced with, in terms of a complete shut down for two weeks, maybe some of those small businesses would not be able to survive this, but we will have to see.”
Grand Bahama is still in recovery mode from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian which battered that island in early September 2019, packing winds of up to 220 mph in gusts. Dorian was the strongest and deadliest storm to ever hit The Bahamas.
“In terms of the storm recovery process, again, next month starts the active part of the hurricane season for us and there are still a lot of buildings that have not been repaired since Dorian,” the Chamber of Commerce president noted. “So that work still needs to get done. I noticed that the Prime Minister, in his national address, said that folks should try to get construction material and the like, upfront, I guess if they can. So, I believe some work will still go on.”
Mr Laroda said the lockdown will seriously set back the building repairs as well, but he is hopeful at least some of the work will be done.
“Maybe we can still get some of the essential stuff done and just wait and see where it goes,” Mr Laroda continued. “Right now, he is saying two weeks. Two weeks is going to be tough, but we understand the safety aspect of it and hopefully folks can stay isolated as much as possible and when they do go out, practice social distancing, properly wear their PPEs, sanitise and all of that. But, at the end of this period I hope we won’t have to look at some extension to it. We really need a break and to get this somewhat behind us.”
During the island’s lockdown, essential businesses like pharmacies, food stores and water depots are allowed to operate. All non-essential businesses will be closed. Mr Laroda expressed empathy for the survival of these businesses.
“Some essential businesses will be open from 7am to 1pm and then there are the food stores and some others that will open from 7am until 5pm,” Mr LaRoda said. “So, there will still be some commerce going on. He (Dr Minnis) has allowed the industrial sector to continue business as well. So that will be a help because they employ a good chunk of the work force here on Grand Bahama.
“The businesses that fall into the non-essential category are the ones that will continue to suffer as they are going to be closed. I’m sure they are going to struggle to maintain any level of employment of staff through this, but again we will have to see how it all pans out.”
Oil companies will continue to operate on Grand Bahama during the lockdown, supplying gas stations.