Covid restrictions forcing businesses to adapt


Superintendant Glen Charles of the Port of Spain Municipal Police as he met with supermarket owners in Port of Spain to ensure that stores, shoppers and vendors adhere to covid19 restrictions. – Marvin Hamilton

THOSE who do not adapt, will die.

According to co-ordinator of the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers, Jaishima Leladharsingh, businesses that are swiftly adapting are not engaging in “smartmanism” but fighting for survival.

The confederation is a conglomerate of some 14 chambers of commerce that include the Supermarkets Association, Petroleum Dealers Association and the Yachting Services of TT.

In war, Leladharsingh said, people do what they need to and businesses that are adapting are at war, just like the rest of the country against covid19.

In a telephone interview on Friday, Leladharsingh was responding to the shift in businesses that are ordered to be temporarily closed but have since shifted their operations. In a bid to curb spiralling numbers, the Government instituted restrictions all retail outlets, restaurants, bars and street vendors except those selling market goods, until May 23.

To combat this, some businesses have morphed from retail to market goods or have added grocery items to remain open.

“These are trying times. As Darwin said, it is not the strongest or the smartest that survive but those who can adapt. A lot of people don’t get paid when small businesses are closed and I don’t think some of them will re-open after May 23.”

Leladharsingh said of the 27,000 registered businesses in TT, 16,000 are small and medium enterprises (SMEs). He said since the pandemic an estimated 3,000 have closed permanently with another 1,500 expected to remain closed after May 23. He said just about 500 are adapting.

“People are holding on to their businesses by their fingernails. People are making adaptations to survive. Some may say that is smartmanism but some businesses do not want to send home workers.”

In a fight to earn monies during the restrictions, some businesses which were forced to close have been renting out their spaces to essential businesses Sunday Newsday was told. In Port of Spain, non-essential street vending continued with the municipal police arresting 118 vendors this month so far. In comparison, for the entire month of April, they arrested 100 vendors.

Leladharsingh said he is especially sympathetic to the cosmetics industry such as beauty salons and nail technicians, which are mainly owned single women. These, he said, are the hardest hit as a result of the pandemic.

He called on the Government to use US$1 billion from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) to assist businesses.

“We can’t just print money like the US but we have the HSF. That money is for every citizen of this country. We can work through banks and non-governmental organisations and churches to assess who is in need and provide them with a grant, not a loan to add to their debt.”

Leladharsingh added that there are people in need of relief and a further dip into the country’s savings is what is needed. The Government, has already withdrawn TT$2 billion from the HSF during the pandemic to pay salaries due to a shortfall in revenue as a result of the pandemic. Another $50 m has been made available for those affected by the latest restrictions and 25,000 food hampers are to be distributed to the most vulnerable, among other measures.

Although the restrictions are crippling businesses, Leladharsingh said be believes that there should be a seven-day total lockdown to reduce the number of infections with an increased drive to vaccinate people.

He also called on banks to “also take a hit” and offer a four-month moratorium on loans with no added interest.

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