By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A gas station operator yesterday branded the reinstated COVID-19 ban on in-store customers and reduced hours as the “final nail in the coffin".
Vasco Bastian, owner/operator of Esso's East Street South and Soldier Road location, told Tribune Business: “I think the petroleum industry, whether Rubis, Esso and Sun Oil, we are all hanging on by a thin threadline, especially the Rubis and Esso franchise-owned and operated sites.
"So I think by the mere fact that the Government now is going to reduce the hours and the customers’ ability to come inside the store, this is the nail in the coffin for the retail aspect of gas stations in The Bahamas.”
Mr Bastian spoke out after the Prime Minister, in his House of Assembly address, reimposed the prohibition on customers going inside gas stations' retail stores with effect from 7pm on Friday. The industry will also have to cope with the reduced hours produced by a 7pm weekday curfew on New Providence and Abaco, and the loss of weekends due to the latest lockdown.
"I understand that the Government is trying to marry economics and health, and I support the health aspect of it," Mr Bastian said, "but closing down this country and denying customers access to the gas station is foolishness. We can let in one or two persons at a time. It is a sad day for gas stations, for The Bahamas, for retailers and entrepreneurs all over this Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
"I think that the Prime Minister needs to widen his counsel and the people he gets advice from. He needs to widen that scope. He needs to go get some small and medium-sized entrepreneurs around the table to discuss this. This knee-jerk reaction in dealing with this economy cannot continue. I also think that the Bahamian people need to behave more responsibly as to avoid these types of lockdowns because when the government locks down the country, it is hurting everybody.
"I don’t agree with the Prime Minister, but we have to take some responsibility for the lockdowns ourselves and as Bahamians. I know it must be hard for those guys [the Government]; they had Hurricane Dorian and now they have COVID-19, but come on," Mr Bastian added.
"It must be a collective effort to stop COVID-19 in The Bahamas, and all hands are on deck - from retailers, wholesalers, entrepreneurs - all must help to reduce the spread to get this country back to where it used to be some two or three years ago.
"We are now on our knees; the only thing left for us to do now is cut off our legs. As a person who employs 30-plus persons directly this is a sad day for gas station operators. This is a sad day for entrepreneurs, sad day for retailers, but we also have to blame our fellow Bahamians who are not social distancing and are not spraying down their hands and not wearing a mask."
Mr Bastian said the Government needed to also seek input from younger Bahamians, adding: "The Chamber of Commerce is limited in that scope, and they don’t reach out to everybody. We need to get this economy opened, and get these people back to work. We need to get the COVID-19 numbers down."