‘Ease’ necessary to encourage safe business operations

– The President of THAG agrees with the safe reopening of businesses

NIGHT while health protocols are in place to help mitigate the spread and impact of COVID-19, business closures are having a significant impact on people’s livelihoods, and Guyana Tourism and Hospitality Association (THAG) President Mitra Ramkumar reasoned that give some ‘facilitation’ to businesses will ultimately help promote better adherence to health guidelines.

Since March 2020, the global pandemic has forced many businesses – other than those essential services – to close their doors. Businesses that aren’t necessarily considered, including bars, cinemas and other entertainment venues, have been closed for almost a year.

Caribbean Inn Restaurant at Mon Repos, on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD)

“If you just look at each of the small bars, look at how many people they employ…. (owners) say they want to open just to cover their expenses and pay their staff, ”Ramkumar told the Guyana Chronicle during a recent interview.

Because of the extended restrictions to the operations of such businesses, many business owners claimed that they had been forced to reopen and operate, even if it meant breaching the Gazetted COVID-19 guidelines.

The President of THAG highlighted that, over the past few months, he has made a number of complaints about businesses that are in a poor economic position because they have been unable to pay their mortgages, maintain their facilities or, importantly, continue to employ their staff. It has been an economic disaster, with the resulting effects resulting in individuals’ inability to provide for themselves and their families.

Even Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, during a speech to the nation on Saturday, notes that several owners and business workers have complained about the protracted closures during his various outreach activities across the country.

COVID-19 Emergency Measures (no. 14), which will come into effect from 1 February, and will last for the whole month, allows indoor dining in bars and restaurants. Indoor dining and opening bars were banned for nearly a year. While allowing indoor dining in bars and restaurants might be considered incompatible with national efforts to mitigate the spread and impact of COVID-19, President Ali emphasized that balancing the health considerations with the economic impact that prolonged closures could have on businesses are key to managing the pandemic well. And, Ramkumar agrees.

“We need to focus on how you can open, how you can operate safely rather than shut down, because we’ve been so long in the closures,” said a THAG official, adding: “Even in places of entertainment, the focus must be on how it can be done safely. ”

Ramkumar noted that THAG has been advocating on behalf of local businesses in the hospitality sector, but at the heart of these advocacy efforts the businesses are assured that they will operate to certain standards. The indoor lunch now allowed will only be during the hours of 04:00 am to 9:30 pm. As also detailed in the official list, indoor dining in a restaurant and bar is limited to 40 percent capacity of the building, tables must be set six feet apart and no more than four persons should sit at one table, and each person must sit it must be three feet apart.

President Ali noted that generally accepted industry standards indicate that businesses need at least 35 percent occupancy to meet overhead costs. And, to prevent bankruptcy and reduce the risk to local businesses, these measures have been introduced to provide them with some relief.

Indoor dining in bars and restaurants is monitored by the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA); businesses are required to organize their premises in accordance with the gaps and adequate sanitation guidelines. To date, 40 businesses have received authorization to offer restricted indoor dining.

“You don’t want to force people to act illegally, you want to make sure that the measures you put in place make sense and adapt to the reality of the situation you are facing,” said Ramkumar.

He explained that with these regulatory systems in place, businesses are able to operate and gain – though not at the level previously achieved – in maintaining safe guidelines. On the contrary, he said that without such concessions, businesses can operate traditionally, where there is little or no regulation of their activities.

Although cinemas have not yet been given the ‘green light’ to reopen, Ramkumar highlighted that these businesses have felt the most restrictive because of the pandemic. And this was confirmed by Movietowne Guyana’s General Manager Rochelle Parsram, who lamented that the centre’s cinemas – arguably its biggest attraction – closed since March last year.

Movietowne is committed that, if allowed to reopen, even at limited capacity, there will be sufficient space and sanitation to ensure COVID-19 spread can be reduced. Meanwhile, Ramkumar highlighted that in addition to the economic need for business reopening, human beings need specific activities to relax and rejuvenate themselves.