By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Abaco's Chamber of Commerce president yesterday said he will seek exemptions from the newly-unveiled COVID-19 weekend lockdown to ensure Hurricane Dorian reconstruction continues unimpeded.
Ken Hutton told Tribune Business he was writing to the Prime Minister to explain the concerns, and relief sought, by Abaco's private sector after he unveiled plans to impose a 24-hour weekend lockdown on the island's construction and other sectors.
Anxious that Abaco's rebuilding face no further unnecessary delays, he said: "We're in the middle of writing a letter to the Prime Minister requesting some exemptions here. We are certainly going to be asking for some, one in particular being to allow construction efforts to continue during the lockdown at weekends.
"For many people it's the only time they have to rebuild their homes because they are working during the week. The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are getting so close to finishing some of their projects, and standing them down at the weekend is problematic because they only have a certain amount of time here."
With Abaco suffering 157 COVID-19 infections as of this Tuesday, Mr Hutton said the Government had little choice but to act if it was to bring that and the rate of spread on New Providence under control.
"It's not helpful," he added of the latest restrictions, "but again I think something has to be done. There's no doubt about that. It's a very serious issue. But I think putting Abaco on the same scale as New Providence is probably not accurate. There are very different circumstances here in Abaco than there are in Nassau.
"So I think, and I'm hopeful, that the Prime Minister as he has in the past will recognise that, and allow certain things to go on and continue versus Nassau." Mr Hutton said allowing gas stations and restaurants to operate during lockdowns and curfews was critical, given that they represented vital sources of generator fuel and hot meals for those still rebuilding who remain without gas and electricity.
"We can't give up; we've got to keep moving forward," the Chamber chief said. "It's two steps forward, one-and-a-half back." However, Abaco and New Providence both escaped the total lockdowns that Mr Hutton and others had feared earlier this week.
He had described this as a "possibly irreparable blow", adding that "the horse has left the stable" when it came to extreme measures to halt the pandemic's spread given that such 'cures' would effectively "kill the patient" in terms of businesses and jobs.
"We are just beginning to hit our stride again and getting back into that mode of rebuilding and getting a track record and some kind of impetus going," Mr Hutton said then.
"We're still waiting for the second homeowners to return. Many have not returned since Dorian. The driving force of the Abaco economy has not returned. If we were to go back into lockdown I fear for this place. I think it will be a tremendous, possibly irreparable blow, for Abaco."
He added: "If there's consideration for another lockdown we would definitely advise against that. We believe the days of lockdown, that horse has left the building. We have to deal with the consequences and mitigate the risk of this more effectively, and protect the most vulnerable communities.
"My biggest fear is that attempting another lockdown, the preventative measures will kill the patient. We cannot afford another lockdown. We are in hurricane season, there's much work to be done. We have no shelters, and there are scores of people without roofs on their homes who are working to rebuild their homes and businesses. Having everything on hold again would be devastating here."