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Business Dilemma - How Long Can We Survive?

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Robert Myers

By Neil Hartnell

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government was yesterday urged to strike "a happy medium" in its battle against COVID-19 amid fears that an extended lockdown could "completely destroy the Bahamian economy".

Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business there had "to be some balance" between fighting the virus and restarting certain industries given that few businesses have the financial reserves to withstand the lockdown extension being considered by the Minnis administration.

Speaking ahead of Monday's House of Assembly session, during which MPs will be asked to determine if the current lockdown should be extended by up to 30 days, Mr Myers said the Government had made the right call by enacting emergency powers until month's end.

Backing present measures as critical to preventing a projected surge in the COVID-19 infection rate, the ORG chief said his key concern was that maintaining the lockdown status quo fo

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Nassau in shutdown

r another month could put "everybody out of business" and prevent the Bahamian economy from restarting.

"I believe the Government has made the right decision in the short-term," Mr Myers told this newspaper. "If the infection rate was climbing to such a point that gave them considerable concern, they have absolutely made the right decision and shown great leadership.

"But there's going to have to be a balance because otherwise everybody will be out of business, including the country.... There's got to be some balance with some people getting back to work. We've got no tourism economy because nobody is travelling from anywhere to come here.

"The Government needs to be thinking about what industries it can get up and operating so at least there's some income some sectors of the economy are earning. So when we start back up, at least there's some money flowing. Right now, everyone is using up their reserves. Companies are using their reserves and employees are using their reserves," he continued.

"I think a lot of people are living pay cheque to pay cheque, and we can only support our people for so long. We're talking three weeks. There's got to be some balance that they can strike between controlling our infection rate and putting some of the workforce back online. There's got to be some way we can manage that risk."

Mr Myers said this was the task Singapore and other countries are presently engaged in, where they were slowly - and cautiously - opening specific economic sectors back up as the COVID-19 infection rate declined or seemingly came under control.

Pointing out that such actions could always be reversed if the virus appeared to reboot, the ORG principal added: "There's got to be some happy medium where we don't completely destroy the economy. At a certain point, if you destroy the economy you put the country at a significant risk of fiscal failure. You put businesses, people and the country at risk of failure.

"There's got to be a happy medium there, and a way in which to manage the number of infections, and balancing that against work and trying to achieve some revenue generation for people and businesses in certain sectors.

"We understand the hotel sector is going to be decimated because nobody is travelling from the US and Europe right now. There's nothing we can do about that, but it doesn't mean there's businesses in sectors like manufacturing, construction and retail that couldn't be opened if the rates of infection became lower and lower," Mr Myers continued.

"There's got to be some balance between the risk of infection and rebooting the economy. This could go on for months. I don't think the Government, nor businesses, nor people, have the kind of reserves that can withstand that kind of closure of the economy. They've got to come up with something."

Mr Myers' concerns were echoed by Rick Lowe, Nassau Motor Company's (NMC) director/operations manager, who yesterday said "the show must go on to some extent" to prevent the collapse of individual companies and the wider economy.

He argued that the Government should strive for the shortest lockdown period possible, and adjust its strategy according to COVID-19 testing results. "Is it understandable? Yes," Mr Lowe said of the present lockdown, and the Government's consideration of an extension. "But the show must go on to some extent.

"I don't think at the end of another 30 days it's going to be very positive. It's going to be a long, hard crawl from the depths of economic despair. I think we should strive for the shortest time period possible [on the extension], and make adjustments from there, but I'm not the person with the power.

"The last thing our healthcare system needs is to be more overwhelmed than it is already. But there's the other side that people need to earn a living to buy groceries and pay electricity bills etc."

Mr Lowe described the COVID-19 testing results, which have detected five cases in the Bahamas to-date, as the "critical link" that should determine the length of any lockdown extension.

He added: "I know one thing. Going for a month to month-and-a-half without revenue is going to put a huge strain on companies. It could be devastating. We went in today and did the payroll, wrote some cheques for import taxes, and you have these other bills to pay.

"We'll have to be in tomorrow for a little while. Things still go on. Phone bills are still being paid, electricity bills are still being received, courier bills still have to be paid. There's goods to be picked up at the port, will clients want to go ahead, will staffing be at the same level, how quickly can you ramp back up? There's so many things to take into consideration."

The dilemma outlined by Messrs Myers and Lowe is the same as that confronting the US and other economies in their response to COVID-19. Donald Trump, the US president, recently said he wanted to reboot the economy by Easter, which falls in mid-April, and suggested that "the cure cannot be worse than the problem".

This alludes to concerns that the massive economic and social disruption could be far worse, and negatively affect millions more persons, than COVID-19, although Mr Trump's critics will likely accuse him of endangering lives if such an approach is adopted.

Meanwhile, the Bahamian government last night further expanded the list of industries and businesses to be treated as "essential services", and exempted from the lockdown, provided they comply with the mandatory social distancing policies outlined in the latest Emergency Powers Order.

Commercial fishermen will be allowed to sell their product until April 1, 2020, but only through a processing plant and wholesale distributor. No contact with the end-customer is permitted with fish markets at locations such as Montague and Potter's Cay closed.

Rental car companies will also be allowed to open between 8am to 1pm, but only to receive returned vehicles and extend expiring contracts. Property management and maintenance services companies can operate provided there is no customer interaction, while attorneys will be able to take instructions from clients in criminal matters only if this cannot be done through audio visual means.

Freeport's industrial economy, which includes the likes of Polymers International, Pharmachem, Buckeye Bahamas, Freeport Container Port and the Grand Bahama Shipyard, will be open but only to essential workers for the maintenance of key equipment.

And Nassau-based Commonwealth Brewery, too, will be allowed to operate only for the purpose of its security team securing sites and responding to emergencies. Suppliers of cleaning products to companies; cleaning services providers; pool maintenance and supplies businesses; and funeral homes and cemeteries are also being allowed to operate, albeit the first four are confined to set hours.

Farms are permitted to open between the hours of 6am and 1pm, but not to the general public, while electronic communications, technology and IT providers can also provide support to business clients between 10am and 5pm.

Tribune Business had previously seen a list of 46 different industries and businesses that were requesting they be added to the list of "essential services" exempted from the present lockdown, but fewer than half appear to have made it.

Carl Bethel QC, the Attorney General, previously said a 14-day extension of the existing lockdown was an option being considered, but added that the Government's medical advisers were pushing for a 30-day extension that would take it to the end of April.

Mr Myers yesterday suggested that the Government could mandate that elderly workers, or those with underlying health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, be mandated to stay home as evidence from other countries suggested they were most at risk of suffering complications if they caught COVID-19

"Speaking as a businessman and civil society leader, I'm very concerned as to what the long-term effects of a long-term shutdown will look like," he added. "We have the potential for fiscal instability and civil instability.

"I understand we have this horrible health instability, but there are other dangers on the horizon. I'm assuming the Government has given consideration to all those risks - health, civil and financial."

Mr Myers said the COVID-19 lockdown had required him to close all his multiple business interests and send staff members home. These include Capstone, a construction company; Caribbean Landscaping; ACIH, a technology and brokerage firm; Western Hardware & Lumber; a garden centre; and retail flower store.

"This is the first week and reality sets in quickly," he told Tribune Business. "When you're sitting at home and have sent everyone else home, the reality of that is significant and weighs heavily on people like myself. We're producers.

"I haven't done this in 35 years. I've never shut my doors like this. During a hurricane we've closed for a day, but have never closed all the companies. For producers like myself this is hell. It's nerve-wracking. I get it. We all get it. We support the decision, but in our mind there's going to have to be some balance.

"We're completely shut down. We've pulled people in from Andros, pulled people in from Abaco, shut down and shuttered all of our job sites and are waiting for the word to get going again. We ain't doing any business, we ain't making any money. It's really bad news."

K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, earlier this week said the Government has yet to employ all the fiscal stimulus tools at its disposal. He acknowledged that a massive intervention will be required to jump-start the Bahamian economy once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

Comments

John 7 months ago

The thing is, some businesses have their revenue insured so the long closures will not bother them, and hopefully their staff will benefit from the insurance coverage. And then there are those businesses that were wiped out or suffered tremendously during Hurricane Dorian. The truth is some may be wiped out. And when the country starts to reopen remember the large tourist sector will be mostly idle since most of the markets are still under Corona pandemic. Just hope the hurricane season is not too active.

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Dawes 7 months ago

I don't think the insurance companies will honor this as they will say it is not covered.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 7 months ago

Right you are @Dawes. The cartel of insurance companies have all gotten together with their lawyers and agreed that a pandemic like the Red China Virus is an uninsured (uninsurable) act of God.

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stillwaters 7 months ago

Family dilemma.....if you still have grown children at home, who cannot support themselves fully and they won't stay put, up and down all day........do you put them out to keep yourelf(over 60 years) safe?????

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Chucky 7 months ago

Lockdown is foolish and completely retarded.

If we open the country before all travelers and their respective countries are done and completely rid of coronavirus this lockdown is a joke.

Imagine the fool who implemented a 30 day lockdown and the opens the country to more of the same disease carrying travelers.

Stupid is as stupid does.

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joeblow 7 months ago

… the lockdown is absolutely necessary. It is relatively clear that the 30 day lockdown is just for starters and will have to be extended as new cases arise. If people stay home they cannot get new infections. Those with mild to moderate symptoms will be better within 14 days or so and will have immunity against the virus. Those with more severe infections may have to be hospitalized. The idea is to keep severe infections to a minimum because of bed space etc. Without the budgets of larger countries, a lockdown is the low tech way to go!!

We need time for the virus to burn itself out WHILE we wait for the economies of larger countries to get back on their feet so people can travel again, because in spite of this blow, I don't see this country changing the way it does business anytime in the near future!!

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DWW 6 months, 3 weeks ago

6 to 12 months. you got a years income stashed away somewhere? i used up my safety net to stay viable after Dorian. now i'm tapped out.

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DannyB 7 months ago

A total lockdown is only good to buy time while preparing for the medical emergency. The purpose cannot be to avoid the spread of the virus indefinitely. That is not possible or sustainable. Countries like Canada are locking down while producing their own medical equipment for the hospitals. The Bahamas has to figure out what to do when the virus hits them. Thankfully, it looks like the warm humid climate will work in the Bahamas favour. Keep praying, trusting the Lord and using wisdom to prepare now!

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proudloudandfnm 7 months ago

The virus will dictate when lockdown should be lifted. Period.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 7 months ago

Don't under estimate the self-interest of a corrupt government. It is after all most difficult to enjoy the fruits of corruption associated with political power in an essentially dead economy. And it will be almost impossible for the economy to be revived if it remains shutdown for too much longer. You obviously one of those who doesn't believe the cure for the problem could indeed be worse than the problem itself.

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proudloudandfnm 7 months ago

And you're one of those moron trumpies that think the dumbest man on earth has an answer.

The virus will determine the timeline despite moron righties....

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truetruebahamian 7 months ago

Mudda is both dumb and dumber put together. Best for mudda to put a mask on his means of communications and keep his head out of his...

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DWW 7 months ago

6 to 12 months minimum. get comfortable

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stillwaters 7 months ago

And the virus hasn't really manifested itself, fully and in all it's frightening glory, yet in the Bahamas. It's still incubating........hatching.....

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Well_mudda_take_sic 7 months ago

.....before it then floats in the air towards an area near each of us soon.

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stillwaters 7 months ago

Incubating inside people, not in the air floating

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DWW 7 months ago

airborne transmission is proved possible over short distances of a few hundred feet.

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stillwaters 7 months ago

Ohhhhh....okay.......fake smile

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Entrepreneur 7 months ago

There are many different scenarios that can unfold here. Some of them are far better than others, and it is creating the positive ones that we should be focused upon. Getting the test kits that allow Bahamians to see who has already had it and recovered would be a very good thing to do, as if as some suspect many of us have already had it and not had symptoms or only very mild symptoms - well, that could be a very positive game changer. That could drive policy in a far more business oriented way with little risk to human health, if the results are positive enough. Also the Prime Minister and Government deserves genuine praise for closing traffic from China and Italy so early. That may have saved countless lives. Lastly, government opening up key new sectors of the economy to offset the unemployment would be welcome - and there are ways to do that in agriculture particularly that can maintain ample social distancing. Good luck to every one!

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Well_mudda_take_sic 7 months ago

"Also the Prime Minister and Government deserves genuine praise for closing traffic from China and Italy so early. That may have saved countless lives."

How can you say that @Entrepreneur? Surely not with a straight face!

Try as you may, most Bahamians will not fall for your rather feeble and transparent effort to rewrite history. When it comes to life-saving containment measures, most of us already know the Minnis-led FNM government did much too little, much too late.

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Entrepreneur 7 months ago

Simple - we have low numbers at this time; it could have been a lot worse if those actions had not been taken. Credit where credit is due. God bless you.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 7 months ago

Low numbers only because there has been no wide spread testing.

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DDK 7 months ago

In total agreement with Mr. Myers. Hopefully Government will not completely destroy our already floundering economy. People need to be sensible about that this virus, including our political leaders. Going off with draconian, half-cocked shutdowns is ludicrous in these circumstances.

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tetelestai 7 months ago

So despite all the meducal experts in the world suggesting otherwise - and more importantly all the empirical data that has shown that staying inside is best recourse- you say lets live and let live! Go outside, infect each other, nothing to see here. Ahhh, Bahamians, I need breaknfrom this comment section. Everytime I look at these half-senseless comments, I have to weep for the ignorance of my people.

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DWW 6 months, 3 weeks ago

you gonna stay holed up inside for 6 to 12 months? I don't think so. i bet you are one of the lucky ones who get to leave the house and go to work everyday.

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mandela 7 months ago

Can someone who has been doing this, please explain how it works when going to the wash-house? do the customers stand in line 6ft apart outside to wait for the next available washer or dryer, or is everyone inside bunched up together like normal?

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joeblow 7 months ago

… seems to me the most sensible thing to do is wash items at home one piece at a time if necessary. Its not like people have something else to do!

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stillwaters 7 months ago

It all depends on just what measure of common sense is present inside and outside the wash house.

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Chucky 7 months ago

Will never work and will never last.

Even the government will need to get revenue going before the virus is done.

And there will be other viruses.

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DDK 7 months ago

Poor telestai. As you apparently suffer from coronamania, I hope you enjoy your lockdown and wish you a speedy recovery.

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tetelestai 6 months, 4 weeks ago

Given your 4 year old logic and 2 year old response, maybe being locked away from simpletons like you is a good thing!

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DWW 6 months, 3 weeks ago

BPL bankrupt in a week. Sands Beer bankrupt in a month. Bristol closes in 2 months. Atlantis never reopens until several years later someone rebrands it and reopens. everything falls apart in 30 days. just sit back enjoy your popcorn and watch the Bahamas and the world go down in flames. unemployment in this country will be at 72% in 30 days, just watch.

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