Rambharat empathises with covid19-hit businesses

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Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat. –

AGRICULTURE Minister Clarence Rambharat has empathised with businesses whose operations have been disrupted by the covid19 pandemic.

Rambharat made the comment as he spoke with representatives of different private-sector organisations during a virtual meeting of the Finance and Legal Affairs Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Friday.

One of those representatives, TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce Tobago Division chairman Diane Hadad, believes TT is only now starting to feel the effect of the pandemic which was so declared on March 11, 2020.

She said, “We did not understand the depth and length of it. There was this movement going around where persons did not initially feel the impact of this.

“We now have a wet blanket or fear factor over the nation or the world, based on how it (covid19) is addressed.”

She described long lines of customers waiting outside different businessplaces as misconceptions that those businesses were doing well. She said what actually happened was people being able to do fewer transactions at those businesses after waiting to sanitise before entry.

With people losing jobs and/or being more careful with how they spend their money, Hadad opined, “I want to say the devastating effects of this (pandemic) is now starting to hit home in a really deep way.”

Rambharat accepted the views of Hadad and other private-sector representatives at the meeting.

Recalling that he once chaired a private-sector organisation before entering politics, Rambharat observed that private-sector organisations are amongst the entities to have borne the brunt of covid19.

Referring to Hadad’s comments about the difficulties of projecting how long the pandemic will last, he said, “The only thing that is certain about covid19 is the uncertainty (of covid19).”

He added this point has been raised repeatedly by the Prime Minister.

Since the pandemic began, Rambharat said, no one could have predicted the world would have had to deal with covid19 variants like delta and omicron now. The dynamic nature of the pandemic, he continued, has resulted in countries around the world using different strategies to curb covid19 in their respective jurisdictions.

He cited a decision taken in Quebec, Canada last month which allows health care workers who have been infected with covid19 to continue working. That decision allows health care workers with few or no covid19 symptoms to be assigned to an area in a health facility where there are patients who are also covid19-positive.

Rambharat said Government has provided assistance to businesses whose operations have been affected by the pandemic. As he acknowledged comments from private-sector representatives about challenges in accessing some of this assistance, Rambharat said it was not Government’s intention to use policy to exclude anyone from accessing covid19 relief. But he added it was important to ensure that relief reached the people who needed it most.

San Juan Business Association president Jason Roach said his group has encouraged 2,000 of its members to get vaccinated against covid19.

Hadad said she has also been encouraging her workers to be vaccinated as well. She felt the increased numbers of people getting vaccinated was more because they wanted to keep their jobs as opposed to their supporting the science behind vaccination.

Given the uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic, Hadad and TT Coalition of Service Industries president Mark Edgehill suggested innovative solutions should be found to help businesses that are financially challenged because of covid19.

During the meeting, JSC chairman Hazel Thompson-Ahye said the meeting was not a forum for defending anyone, including the Government.

Rambharat assumed chairmanship of the meeting for a brief period when Thompson-Ahye was offline. When her virtual connection was restored, Thompson-Ahye said she hoped Rambharat had nothing to do with her absence. Rambharat laughed and pleaded innocence. He opined that vibrating medicine mentioned by Hadad could have caused the disruption. Hadad said Thompson-Ahye’s return at the end of the meeting was a case of divine order taking place.

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