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Entertainment suffers $26-billion COVID hit - Minister Grange says reopening sector too early could prove detrimental

Published:Sunday | May 31, 2020 | 12:31 AMShereita Grizzle - Staff Reporter
 Patrons revel in the sounds of Xaymaca International carnival road march last year.
Patrons revel in the sounds of Xaymaca International carnival road march last year.

The Jamaican Government has indicated that it will be taking a cautious approach in the reopening of the entertainment industry, which has taken a $26-billion hit since the sector was locked down in March to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Grange told The Sunday Gleaner that a survey, conducted by the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, revealed that 95.5 per cent of respondents had experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The average estimated total financial loss of income for the month of March was J$1.6 million for micro-entrepreneurs.

“When extrapolated to the relative size of the industry, this represents loss to the arts and entertainment sector as, conservatively, J$19.2 billion for micro and small creative businesses and individuals. Coupled with losses from medium and large events such as Calabash Literary Arts Festival, Carnival in Jamaica, Dream, and Reggae Sumfest, the lost revenue increases to in excess of $26.182 billion,” she said.

The minister also revealed an additional loss of $44 million from the National Independence Celebrations and the National Festival of Arts, which have also been affected.

While some entertainment industry professionals have come forward to urge the Government to take their time getting the coronavirus (COVID-19) under control before reopening the industry, others have been asking for the green light to stage their events. Earlier this week, organisers of the Beach Road Trip (BRT) Weekend outlined plans to implement protective measures as they sought permission from the powers that be to go ahead with their event, set for July 31 - August 2.

“I foresee an incremental opening rather than a full-scale one at this time. Remember, Jamaica has, on average, 20,000 events each year from micro-community round robins, street dances, nine nights, to large festivals. The protocols for each will have to be carefully examined. We have to remember that Patient Zero attended a funeral, and thereafter, a whole community was quarantined. As such, we have to review existing health and safety guidelines, review practices and solutions from other parts of the world, but also be aware of our own cultural moves that will impact compliance at these events,” Grange said.

The minister said that the decision to reopen the sector would be guided by protocols set out by the Ministry of Health, adding that “COVID-19 is like nothing we’ve seen before”. “Between 2017 and 2018, we saw almost 20 entertainers dead ... . That was just because of ageing, co-morbidities, etc. COVID-19 has the potential to double and triple that number if we are not careful. Even young musicians, writers, dancers have underlying health issues that could be fatal if we open too quickly, without taking the necessary precautions.”

While the minister remains cautious about the reopening of the entertainment industry, she says that her team has been using the time to kick-start the industry in other ways. She revealed that some plans are already under way to ensure that the industry is no longer treated as an ‘orphan’.

“One important way of kick-starting the industry is already under way, with the increased registration of entertainment businesses and practitioners. The ministry has also conducted surveys to gather data on the needs and fallout within the sector. The important step of formalisation means that no longer will entertainment be treated as an orphan. We will be able to advocate, through data and research, for the overall contribution of the industry to the nation’s economy that will drive support to the industry,” she said.

“So there has been no ‘downtime’ for the Entertainment Division and the Entertainment Advisory Board as they have been working on structuring the creative industries. This period has been a good time to review existing policies, working with colleagues on formalising entertainment zones and districts with municipal authorities and looking to incentivise small venues and spaces so that post-COVID-19, we can see more live music being played as well as bands and artistes benefitting, with spaces to perform,” Grange shared.