Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce CEO, Gabriel Faria

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This country’s private sector has earmarked Monday (May 4) as the day it will be ready to re-open its doors for business on a phased basis. And they feel they will need all the goodwill they can get to face the current COVID-19 challenge.

Addressing the possibility of reopening businesses yesterday, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria said the chamber had submitted a “safe to open” protocol to the sub-committee of the team established to chart a recovery road map for T&T post-COVID.

Faria said he was optimistic the document could work given the recent report from the University of Oxford saying T&T was more ready to exit lockdown measure than most countries currently implementing such measures. The Oxford survey ranked T&T second only to Vietnam in the world on that readiness.

The four measures used by Oxford to rank the countries were control of virus transmission; testing, tracing and isolation policies; management of risk of exporting and importing cases and community engagement.

Faria commended the Health Ministry for its work in helping the country manoeuvre through COVID-19.

“The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber has actually built out a safe to open protocol and we have presented this to a subcommittee of the Road Map to Recovery Committee which goes for everything from shift work, so that employees don’t need to all come to work at the same time, to work from home, so there are very robust safe to work protocols in place,” Faria said.

“And I firmly believe that working in conjunction with the Ministry of Health we have no choice but to also look at how we balance livelihood with saving lives.”

Faria said it was only in an ideal world that a government would be able to pay businesses to remain close. But saying this could not happen, he said the economy needs to be restarted.

“The private sector is readying itself to taking a risk-based approach to restarting the economy. What this means is that working in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, we need to gradually open the less risky businesses,” he said.

“I think it is important that we have a structured approach. I think it is important that the Ministry of Health provides a robust framework that educates the population, the business community and of course the employees so that everyone understands what they need to do when they return to work in a responsible way.”

He said a phased basis approach would be required to ensure measures are evaluated.

“Again not every business, just to be very clear, not every business, but in a phased approach where we could evaluate the outcomes of making decisions. And another part of that has to be proper monitoring of staff, so it is making sure that if a staff member falls ill you have a protocol with dealing with that,” he said.

One of the companies many Trinis are hoping will reopen soon is KFC. Simon Hardy, the CEO of Prestige Holdings Limited, KFC’s parent company, yesterday welcomed the Oxford survey news.

“As mentioned, T&T has been recognised for its preparedness. This has been a hard-won position that we all have a responsibility to maintain and not let slip. We are so excited to be able to serve our customers again but we encourage all our customers, and all of T&T, to observe the guidance given to us by the Government and its medical advisors. It has worked for us so far so let’s all Stay Safe,” Hardy said.

Hardy said it may take some time for Prestige to be ready to serve customers again.

“After the length of shutdown that we will have experienced, business the size and scale of Prestige would take some time to be ready to serve our customers. Our primary focus is the safety of our staff and customers, so we need to ensure all aspects of our business are in order before we can serve our customers again,” he said.

“Just like other businesses, we are very eager to be able to serve the public again. We await the specifics of the Government’s protocols for re-opening of restaurants and will be guided by these. In addition, we have identified the key things necessary to be able to re-open in as quick as time as possible, whilst keeping safety at the front of our considerations.”

Because Prestige uses a lot of local products, Hardy said it does not anticipate it may be as adversely affected by the global shortages taking place.

“A lot of what we buy is sourced locally. In terms of international supplies, we normally maintain adequate levels of supplies in our warehouse so we do not anticipate any major disruption at this time, but obviously, this situation can change rapidly based on issues outside of our control,” he said.

He said Prestige will also likely explore the use of more technology following COVID-19 going forward.

The T&T Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI), in collaboration with the T&T Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA), meanwhile surveyed its members to assess the impact of COVID-19 on businesses.

Some 78 per cent of those surveyed reported experiencing negative sales and cited a reduction in opening hours as the cause.

While the majority of those surveyed were optimistic their operations would rebound following the pandemic, “65 per cent of respondents indicated that they would need financial assistance should their operations be restricted for another three months”.