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Gabriel Faria, chief executive officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce has expressed doubt over whether the newest restrictions announced by the Prime Minister will be enough to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In a release issued shortly after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the closure of all food services and non-essential businesses yesterday, Chamber chief executive officer Gabriel Faria said the chamber was looking forward to the enforcement of more stringent regulations.

He said the Chamber had previously called for these measures and better management of the country’s porous borders.

But he said the Chamber did not believe businesses should be shut down completely.

“We understand the concern about the movement of people and that is why we believe take away and delivery services for all business make sense, they do not have to be closed down,” Faria said.

He said many businesses have invested and developed their digital infrastructure to be able to accommodate curbside and delivery services.

Faria said there has also been an increase in delivery services, which he said are safe and in most cases, contactless.

He said the Government should focus on getting vaccines for the population.

“We must continue to aggressively pursue the procurement of vaccines, the cost of continued lockdown to the economy will be significantly more than whatever we have to pay for the vaccines.”

He also called on the Government to increase testing and contact tracing.

Faria said this needs to be done, especially in high-risk communities where the spread of the virus has escalated.

He also called on the Government to provide financial support to businesses impacted in this lockdown.

“Based on Government’s limited ability to provide support, would it not be better to allow the established businesses which have a track record of operating safely to operate with reduced capacities so they can sustain operations even at a lower level?” Faria asked.

He also called on the public to do their part to curb the spread of the virus, saying the current infection trend and potential impact was sobering.

Meanwhile, Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) president Gregory Aboud said even without the statistics showing how quickly the parallel health care system could be overwhelmed, it was obvious T&T was in a crisis.

In a release shortly after the new restrictions were announced, Aboud praised the Prime Minister for taking tough decisions, saying saving lives must be the country’s top priority.

He called on citizens to stop ‘finger-pointing’ and support the new measures.

He also sent out a call to other business owners.

“We wish to encourage the business community, wherever possible, to renew their commitment to assisting those in their employ in whatever can be done to support them during this new period of restriction,” Aboud said.

President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce Richie Sookhai said he too understands the need for more stringent measures to be put in place.

Sookhai said he noted the Prime Minister’s comments about businesses not being compliant with the National Insurance Board (NIB) and how this prevented their employees from receiving grants during the lockdown last year.

He called on businesses to ensure compliance, saying it would make the entire process easier.

Sookhai said while he agrees with the lockdown measures, there is only one route to return normalcy to T&T.

“The only solution they have going forward is to ensure total vaccination of the population, that is the way other nations have done it and that’s why they are able to open their economies today,” Sookhai said.

Guardian Media spoke to several vendors in Freeport, who had to close their businesses as the new restrictions come into effect at midnight.

Sharaz Khan, who manages Sultan’s Tasty Pies, said he was not opposed to the lockdown measures.

“What has to be done, needs to be done and at this point in time, we have to take precautions and until better can be done, we will be out again,” Khan said.

He said he had perishable stock in hand but would have to figure out what to do with it over the next three weeks.

Another vendor, who asked to be identified only as Ramdial, said he was willing to comply and cooperate with all the new measures.

Ramdial said it was better to stay home for a few weeks than to see T&T face a similar scene to India, where hundreds die every day from the virus.