By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The DNA's former leader yesterday argued there was "no justification at all" for restricting merchants to curb-side operations - a move expected to cause a 15-20 percent sales fall at his family's pharmacy.
Branville McCartney told Tribune Business that limitations on the number of customers in-store at any particular time, as well as the enforcement of COVID-19 health protocols by retailers, had "seemed to be working well" prior to the latest measures imposed by the Government to contain the virus' spread.
Asserting that curb-side caused "a strain" for businesses, pharmacies and clients, he suggested this restriction did little to combat the COVID-19 "hot spots" that the Government has identified among office workplaces and multiple public sector agencies.
The weekend lockdowns, Mr McCartney said, were akin to ensuring the virus "stays at home" for two days before it is let out from Monday to Friday as he branded the Minnis administration's strategy "a little willy nilly".
Turning to the problems the latest restrictions have posed for pharmacies, he told this newspaper: "One of the difficulties we have with the curb-side is persons, when they come to the pharmacy, are primarily coming for prescription drugs. More often than not, these prescriptions are personal in nature, private and confidential, and you don't want others to know.
"So, doing curb-side, persons have to speak to security or one of the persons in-store, not a pharmacist, let them know what the prescription is or give it to them. They take it to the pharmacist who fills it out, and then it is taken back to the customer. The privacy issue is a concern."
Mr McCartney added that the current inability of customers to access pharmacies in-store meant purchases of non-medical items would drop-off sharply. "Sales are significantly reduced with curb-side," he said.
"The last time we did curb-side, sales were 15-20 percent reduced. A pharmacy not only has drugs, but ours, Wilmac's, is more a convenience store. It has groceries, every-day items, and people tend to purchase those items while they wait for prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.
"The major part of our pharmacy is over-the-counter items in terms of taking up some of the floor space in the pharmacy. If they can't get in, persons are unable to make a determination as to whether to purchase or not. It's a strain on the business, but it is what it is. It's very taxing."
Some retailers, such as Kelly's House & Home, have opted to close indefinitely until the curb-side restriction is lifted, with many merchants - especially those lacking an online ordering operation - saying it drives them into losses with sales down by as much as 60-70 percent compared to in-store levels.
Mr McCartney, meanwhile, told Tribune Business it was hard to understand the rationale for the Government's insistence on curb-side for pharmacies and retail given that the sectors have not been identified as a major source of COVID-19 spread.
"There doesn't seem to be much justification; no justification at all," he said. "I don't see a huge difference between curb-side or having a certain number of persons in the pharmacy at the same time.
"We have protocols and procedures as to how far apart people should be from each other, where they stand and a minimum number of persons allowed in the premises at the same time. That seemed to work well. No I haven't seen any justification for that [curb-side]."
Conceding, however, that measures were needed to reduce COVID-19 infection rate, Mr McCartney added: "Look, something has to be done with this problem we have. It's out of control, quite frankly. This virus seems to have taken control, but if you're going to make decisions as to how to reduce the spread there ought to be some plan for this and what to do after.
"To me it seems a little willy nilly, going to lockdowns at the weekend and hope the virus stays at home, and then Monday to Friday it's allowed to go out." Mr McCartney also questioned how restricting retailers and pharmacies to curb-side would address the main COVID-19 hot spots, which have been shown to be government offices and other work spaces.