Market vendors concerned, ghost towns as dreaded COVID-19 takes root
The popular Coronation Market on a Saturday is usually a bustling labyrinth of handcart-vendors, tarpaulins and anxious shoppers. But yesterday it was a shadow of itself, as Jamaicans respond to the threat of COVID-19.
More vendors than shoppers and more goods than places to put them – the concerns were many after the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) announced it would be closing the market early Saturday for extensive sanitation exercises in the wake of the novel coronavirus now confirmed on the island.
The vendors said they had purchased more goods to meet an expected increased demand for food last weekend, but noted that with less than usual customers and a shortened vending time, they had no place to put stock and no one to buy.
“Closing the market is good, but there are a lot of people who came in here and never knew about this. What are we going to do? Where are we going to sell?” lamented one vendor.
“There is nowhere else to go. Instead of just closing the market, they should have put some facility in place for us to sell. People come in from Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday morning… right now, closing the market by six o’clock is going to be chaos.”
Other vendors admitted that the market was overrun by rats and other pests and that the bathrooms were in dire need of cleaning. They said, however, the move by the KSAMC seemed hasty and poorly planned and that little thought was given to the vendors.
Yesterday afternoon, KSAMC Town Clerk Robert Hill said the market would be closed from 6 p.m. to sometime this Wednesday. In regard to the vendors’ concerns, he offered only: “the market manager is addressing same.”
In the meantime, vendors and shoppers who came out wore dust masks and surgical gloves with the hope of keeping the respiratory virus at bay. Others stifled coughs and sneezes, while some exchanged cash cautiously.
The Coronation Market, supermarkets, wholesales and disinfectant companies were the busiest yesterday, in contrast to islandwide reports of everywhere else being practically deserted, as the coronavirus fear gripped the nation.
Businesses remained shuttered along many of the major thoroughfares, the latest among them the Palace Amusement Company, which yesterday said its cinema outlets would be closed with immediate effect.
Small businesses, especially, are expected to feel the brunt of the fallout from this public-health crisis, as persons were now only doing essential spending.
The Transport Operators Development Sustainability Services (TODSS) also instructed its members to withdraw service.
The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) said it will be engaging with relevant government ministries, the Jamaica Employers’ Federation and the Human Resource Management Association of Jamaica about flexi-week and sick-leave policies.
“The PSOJ is committed to being a part of the proactive measures to manage COVID-19 and is encouraging a non-partisan national effort to successfully minimise the impact of this global pandemic on Jamaica’s people, business and economy,” it said.