Portland businesses welcome lockdown but brace for bust
PORT ANTONIO, Portland:
Shoppers crammed wholesales, supermarkets, and bakeries in Port Antonio on Friday afternoon to stock up for the first of three weekend lockdowns across Jamaica.
But while the rush was on in the Portland capital, there were appeared to be confusion about, or defiance of, the stipulated operating hours, as several bars remained open until 3 p.m. Friday, while clothes and shoes stores observed the hard noon-day lockdown for non-food and non-pharmaceutical stores.
Some bar operators, although describing the weekend curfew as necessary, are already counting their losses, which could further derail their business after a year of blanket closures or restricted opening hours.
The weekend lockdowns will run from March 26 to April 12. The new measures were announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Sunday, March 21.
"Last year was a tough year for me and I struggled hard to keep my head above the water," said David Sadler, a bar owner of Norwich district in Portland.
"I am well aware of the increase in COVID-19 cases, which is alarmingly high, and therefore I expected tougher measures to try to ease the spread."
The "alarming spike" began in February, and Portland has suffered more than a third of its annual infections in March alone. More than 37,450 people have contracted the virus islandwide. More than 550 have died.
Sadler said that the weekend would be gloomy for her and her staff.
"It makes no sense opening up the bar on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. My workers have to feed their families too, so the effect will be felt all over," he said.
And Piggy's Jerk Centre near Harbour Street in Port Antonio, which was ravaged by fire in 2019, is struggling to remain operational, according to owner Eustas Lindsay.
He said that business was so bad it could not get any worse.
Lindsay is supportive of the lockdown but lamented that it would cripple his business in the short term. Piggy's, he said, generates its best sales between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Months of curfew have eaten into the profit he usually gets from late-evening eaters.
"From last year business has been going down. My light bill is $49,000, water bill is $38,000, and rent is $60,000," he told The Gleaner.
Other small-business operators, including Aubyn Brown of Best Service Meats; Marcus Hemmings of Hemmings liquor store; and Tanya Cummings of Heartease Fast Food all backed the lockdowns as crucial to curbing the outbreak of COVID-19.