By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Prime Minister's decision to ease COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on Grand Bahama was yesterday said to have placed the island on "a crippled economic footing, which is much better than nothing".
Carey Leonard, the Freeport-based Callenders & Co attorney, told Tribune Business that the Prime Minister's decision to restore commercial activity to the status it was in pre-August represented "great news" for an economy that has been under lockdown for three weeks.
Speaking ahead of today's easing, which also applies to multiple Family Islands, Mr Leonard said: "That'll take the pressure off. That really helps put us back.... I wouldn't say on a regular economic footing, but a crippled economic footing, which is much better than nothing.
"At the moment, we have no economy. This gives us a good start. We may have a crippled economy, but at least it allows us to earn money, and the average man who lives pay cheque to pay cheque needs to earn money to go and buy food. The only thing we can hope is that Bahamians must realise we have to comply, wear our mask. That's the best way to stop the spread, and be sensible."
Mr Leonard's position was echoed by Gregory Laroda, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president, who last night told Tribune Business that the relaxation was effectively what the island's business community had been seeking.
"That really is a lifeline for those businesses still afloat, micro and small businesses," he said. The easing, which also applies to Andros, Crooked Island, Acklins, Eleuthera, Cat Island, Exuma, Bimini, the Berry Islands, Mayaguana, Inagua and Abaco, reduces the nightly curfew to between 10pm to 5am.
Grand Bahama's food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, water depots, hardware stores and laundromats will be able to open from 6am to 9pm daily, while commercial banks, credit unions and money transfer businesses are able to operate from 9am to 5pm on weekdays.
Law firms dealing with criminal and "urgent" civil matters can also open, as can retail bakeries from, 7am to 5pm weekdays. Wholesalers and manufacturers; businesses that can provide curbside, online or delivery services, including retail and gaming houses; and restaurants with outdoor dining, takeout, delivery and drive-through services - except for fish fry restaurants - can also open.
The Prime Minister's move came just one day after Freeport's private sector demanded the Government "cease and desist" from further business lockdowns amid fears The Bahamas will "die economically" unless it learns to live with COIVID-19.
Some 184 Grand Bahama-based small business owners, in an August 23, 2020, letter to the Prime Minister, warned they "intend to act" unless he and other government ministers meet with them to present "a clear plan" on how to re-open their ventures and the wider economy.
What was meant by "intend to act" was not clear from the letter, but participants on the weekend Zoom conference call attended by the 184 businesses said there was talk of staging a "silent protest" or "forming a ring" around the Prime Minister's Office in Freeport while respecting social distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols.
The letter, which was addressed to Dr Minnis, provided further evidence of the growing frustration, anxiety and helplessness felt by many Bahamian businessmen as the constant COVID-19 lockdowns and uncertainty increasingly threaten to take away their livelihoods and those of their employees.
It also exposed the growing belief among some that the "cure is becoming worse than the problem" in relation to COVID-19, especially the devastation it is inflicting on businesses, the economy and employment.
The small businesses' move comes after the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, in a statement last week, said The Bahamas must learn to live with the virus or risk the total collapse of its economy.
"COVID-19 will be around for the foreseeable future, and we should be focusing on ways to live with it nationally or die economically," it said. "The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) remains extremely concerned about our post-Dorian and now post-COVID economy in Grand Bahama and nationally.
"We ask special consideration in lifting the lockdown to avoid the further suppression of commerce on the island. GB Chamber remains committed to working with all stakeholders. However, we ask for consideration for alternative measures besides lockdowns."
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