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Business group coalition urges gradual reopening based on accurate data

By on April 24, 2020

A coalition of Puerto Rico business groups called on Gov. Wanda Colón on Friday to lift the Covid-19 lockdown and reopen the island’s economy — but to do so in stages, by sector and with “clearly defined protocols” and accurate virus prevalence data.

The leaders of the three organizations in the coalition — constituted by the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce and the Western Chamber of Commerce – cautioned in a press release that allowing the reopening of businesses closed under the curfew/lockdown in place since March 15, must be done with reliable data on the spread of the Covid-19 virus disease on the island — something they contend is still largely absent.

The coalition leaders said they met with La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Antonio Pabón to discuss their suggestions to Vázquez on the best way to “restart the economy while safeguarding the health of the people,” adding that they “trust” that the governor will consider them in her plans to allow the reopening of businesses ordered shut by the curfew/lockdown measure instituted to curb the spread of the infectious and often deadly novel coronavirus. As of Friday, Covid-19 had led to the deaths of 77 people and infected more than 1,200.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have collaborated with Gov. Vázquez Garced in multiple fronts,” Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (PRCC) President José E. Ledesma Fuentes said in a statement, adding that the coalition groups represent almost all sectors of the local economy. “There have been many meetings with her and the chief of staff, presenting them with the recommendations that business owners from all sectors have sent us.”

Ledesma cautioned that the reopening of businesses must be done “in stages, by sector and with clearly defined protocols.” Moreover, he said, a chief concern that must be addressed before any move to restart the practically shuttered economy is that Puerto Rico “lacks reliable statistics that can give us an accurate x-ray of where we are with respect to this pandemic.”

The PRCC head said that the three business group leaders were concerned about this week’s acknowledgement by Health Department Secretary Lorenzo González that collected data on Covid-19 testing had been inaccurate. He said that any future steps must be based on “data that are not contaminated or saturated,” and stressed the importance of contact tracing.

“For contact tracing to be effective, you must have detailed knowledge of where people are and the real number of cases,” Ledesma said. “We understand that right now that statistic is not reliable. At least for the private sector it is not.”

Therefore, the business group coalition is recommending a gradually implemented plan by sector, Ledesma said.

“The statistics should be the base to open responsibly, with real data,” he said, adding that extending the lockdown into June for most of the economy “without any flexibility” is “unreasonable”

For his part, Southern Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President Luis A. Alvarado Cintrón said the governor’s plan to allow the reopening of businesses should include “clearly defined and uniform protocols” for sanitization, personal protection equipment and social distancing, preferably between three and 10 feet.   

“This is a big concern because we are seeing that the [governor’s] economic and health task forces are working apart,” Alvarado said. “This can get out of hand and this is not what we want. Our biggest worry is in relation to the announced reopening. It has to be well-defined, in accordance with what the private sector has recommended.”   

Western Chamber of Commerce President Waleska Sánchez de Gutiérrez said the government should announce a gradual easing of the lockdown by industry, so that “everyone knows what to do.” She said, moreover, that businesses in the south and western parts of the island have been hit doubly hard because of the earthquakes earlier this year.

“This plan must show the A, B and C of the protocols to follow, clearly established, otherwise each one will interpret it their own way and we will not have a satisfactory control of the health and protection issue, as we wish,” she said, noting that this applies to clients as well as to employees in each one of the industries to be reopened.

Sánchez de Gutiérrez said that restrictions on sectors related to entertainment and recreation should not yet be lifted.

“We understand that if we were to ease restrictions on any sector, they should be service industries, due to the nature of the assistance they offer,” she said. “They can establish a well-agreed plan for clients as well as employees so that they may be secure in the activity they undertake.”

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