Energy Minister Stuart Young said yesterday that when the Government begins reopening the country, it will be done on a phased basis, similar to the system used during last year’s first wave of COVID-19.
Young was speaking at a media conference after a joint-ministerial meeting with the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers to discuss the issues facing businesses that have been shut down by the recent Public Health Regulations.
Among the attendees were Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan on behalf of the Government. The business community was represented by T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Charles Pashley, American Chamber of Commerce of T&T president Patricia Ghany, Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) head Gregory Aboud, Supermarket Association of T&T (SATT) head Rajiv Diptee, T&T Chamber Tobago Chapter president Diane Hadad, T&T Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) president Mark Edghill and T&T Manufacturing Association president Tricia Coosal, among others.
Young said the virtual meeting lasted more than two hours and the representatives of the business community were told of the Government’s plan to reopen on a phased basis.
But Young said any reopening is contingent on a reduction in COVID-19 case numbers, as he said the health and safety of citizens must be put first. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is part of the joint ministerial committee, Young said, but he did not attend the meeting.
He said there was no decision yet on when measures can be rolled back.
“We will sit down with the Ministry of Health as we begin templating how we are going to open and how we are going to reopen the economy, but to reopen it in a safe manner. We will be using the same template of a phased reopening but there are a lot of things that have come to the table now for us to consider when we are working this out,” Young said.
Young said the committee listened to the confederation’s concerns and made a request of their own—asking the business community to help discourage vaccine hesitancy. He said the confederation has signalled its intent to support the Government in its efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
“The business sector, in particular AMCHAM, the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce and Industry and DOMA, they were advocating to us today that any further restrictions that are needed to be put in place by the Government, it is better to take a bitter medicine now and hopefully have the results sooner rather than later,” Young said.
He said the July 4 date for the end of the current restrictions is not set in stone and restrictions can be rolled back sooner if case numbers decline.
He said the confederation has also asked the ministerial team to have conversations with leaders in the banking sector to ease the strain on small businesses with their financial commitments.
Gopee-Scoon said the issue of digital platforms was also discussed.
She, however, cautioned businesses about operating on a virtual platform where contact can be made between staff and the public during deliveries.
“We have always encouraged at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, SMEs in particular, to take advantage of e-commerce and we are very satisfied that there are now all of these platforms, bank platforms and non-bank platforms that facilitate e-commerce and indeed this is the way forward but caution, I think for now it has to be digital and contactless,” she said.
In a release after the meeting, the confederation said it has suggested that a conversation be started about business operations in a COVID-19 environment, as it said extended closure cannot be a long term solution.
It has also suggested a formal COVID-19 exposure risk assessment should be done in all sectors.