By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Retail Grocers Association has called for the end to the weekend lockdowns along with the 7pm curfew, insisting the measures have left businesses teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Lockdowns have not stopped the spread of COVID-19, the association said in a letter to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis in his capacity as competent authority. The group also said the curfew does not provide a reasonable enough time frame to allow businesses to meet the demands of consumers.
That letter dated October 26, seen by The Tribune, noted: “Call off the future planned weekend lockdown and extend the curfew to a reasonable time in order to accommodate all business.”
It came as the House of Assembly on Monday passed a resolution to extend Emergency Powers Orders until November 30. The Senate passed the State of Emergency extension yesterday.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis will hold a press conference today, where he is expected to reveal what restrictions will take place next month.
His address also comes days before the country is set to open the tourism industry.
Super Value owner Rupert Roberts, who is also the association’s secretary, confirmed the group petitioned the government, adding that grocers feel the restrictions could be helping the virus to spread.
“We’ve been telling them all this time that lockdowns are congesting the stores and in this industry, it’s forcing people together and increasing the spread,” Mr Roberts said yesterday.
“When we have control of our employees, we make them follow the rules with masks, the social distancing and we have protective shields between the staff and customers.”
He continued: “It’s when they get home the problem comes in. I think most of the cases are coming from social (interactions) and not work related.
“So, when we had the seven-day week, when they are off, they do their house work, they do their cooking and they are busy. But lockdowns they do whatever they have to do and then they have time to socialise and that’s where the problem comes in.
“Anyone under 40 it’s P-A-R-T-Y. I think that’s where the problem is coming in.
“So, this lockdown is just destroying the economy and spreading the virus and so I hope they see that and do something about it.”
Mr Roberts revealed yesterday the association had been writing to the relevant authority about the issue for the past two weeks.
“Retailers and restaurants cannot meet overhead costs with limited sales from curbside pick up, which is forcing them into bankruptcy. Have you tried on a dress on the sidewalk yet?
“How are you going to go to a restaurant and be home by 7 o’clock?”
He added: “People want to shop, but to get our staff home for 7 o’clock we have to close at 5.30pm but people coming from work want to stop and shop at that time and that is creating a lot of congestion, a lot of lines in the store, which we try to control, but it’s too difficult.
“Another thing is that people don’t get paid until the weekend so they can’t shop until the weekend. The lockdowns are too tight, the curfews are too tight.”
Mr Roberts said he’s seen more of his staff contract the virus over the past several weeks.
“Yes, of course,” he said when asked about infections at his chain of stores. “The country’s in an explosion. Personally, I believe lockdowns are spreading the virus.”
Earlier this month, Mr Roberts said store executives would not “second guess” the recommendations made by health officials to curb the spread of COVID-19.
However, at the time he said his staff would likely “catch hell” due to the influx of shoppers expected from reduced shopping days.
Mr Roberts told The Tribune in a previous interview that while it’s frustrating that more restrictions have to be imposed, Bahamians must learn to abide by the rules.
“What I see is absolutely disgusting — disregard for the sanitisation, the masks and the social distancing,” he said at the time. “I just don’t understand it and it’s very frustrating. They think they know more about COVID than the Prime Minister, the doctor and anyone and there’s only one way to stop them and that’s brutality.
“And I guess the government is now beginning to realise that they have to be brutal about it …I don’t think the lockdown’s good, but medical people do and we’re going to support the medical.
“I’m not going to second guess medical. They tell us what to do to keep the country safe and we’ll just obey. We have opinions, but when they make the decisions, we abide by it 100 percent.”
Earlier this month Dr Minnis announced tighter restrictions for Abaco and New Providence to slow the spread of COVID-19, including a 7pm curfew, lockdowns each weekend, curbside business for retailers, except grocery stores, and the closure of gyms.