Wed | Oct 21, 2020

‘COVID is not a cockroach’ - Pandohie presses for 10 p.m. curfew, saying virus isn’t night predator

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2020 | 12:16 AMChristopher Serju
Richard Pandohie says small-scale night-time traders have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 curfews.

The Jamaican Government has been urged to extend the islandwide curfew to 10 p.m. because small and micro businesses were suffering disproportionately from the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The warning by Seprod CEO Richard Pandohie came hours after Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced at a Jamaica House midday press briefing that he was maintaining the curfew period from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., which will continue until October 7.

Stakeholders in various industries have grown weary of nearly six months of curfews which have killed many businesses whose lifeblood depends on movement and patronage after dark. But calls for a relaxation in restrictions coincide with a rapid rise in coronavirus infections, approaching 5,300, and deaths now at 75, according to data up to Monday.

Four of the latest five deceased had confirmed pre-existing conditions.

Pandohie, who is president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), voiced discontentment at the current curfew hours in an economy that is projected to contract up to 10 per cent in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“I am not a big supporter of the curfew hours. We think that the 8 o’clock curfew is disproportionately affecting micro and small businesses because it means that the businesses have to close at 5:30 to allow people to catch the bus and then they have to go the supermarket or elsewhere to do some shopping, in time to beat the curfew,” said Pandohie.

“We keep saying, ‘COVID is not a cockroach; it doesn’t come out at night alone.”

Pandohie argued that striking a balance between the imperatives of economic stability and health and safety should accommodate greater concern for small businesses that generate significant trade in the period 6 p.m.-10 p.m. That’s when a lot of money is spent, he said.

Operators in the hospitality trade, restaurants, corner shops, as well as jerk chicken/pork chefs were among those most affected by the early curfew.

Seprod has estimated its coronavirus health and safety spend at $60 million since the first case was recorded on March 10. That expenditure covers its operations in Kingston, St Andrew, St Thomas, and St Catherine.

Pandohie made the disclosure at Seprod’s Bog Walk condensery on Tuesday during a tour by Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, St Catherine North Central Member of Parliament Natalie Neita, and executive members of the JMEA.

Pandohie’s admission came midday during an update by Group Quality Manager Carol Andrade on the company’s adoption of COVID-19 workplace protocols. Andrade, who has since taken on the additional role of infection prevention coordinator, said that Seprod had ramped up its sanitisation protocols.

Most of the extra spend has gone into its Bog Walk plant, including the acquisition of protective equipment and transportation for staff.

“We have had to significantly step up the number of workers we transport to work in order to minimise the amount of time they spend on public transportation,” Pandohie said.