The two-week lockdown has not gone down well with a key spokesman of the private sector, despite the full backing of the trade union movement, the medical profession and the island’s key political players.
While the business community has said it will adhere to the order for the country to halt all but essential business operations from Wednesday, Edward Clarke, the chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association is adamant that the action by the Mia Mottley administration is unnecessary.
The position emerged from talks between the Social Partnership and Government in recent days.
On Tuesday night, the Prime Minister outlined several restrictions that would take effect from next Wednesday which are aimed at bringing community spread of the coronavirus under control.
Mottley told a televised address of her Government’s intention to tighten protocols for visitors to the island, including a longer quarantine period. Declaring “war” on COVID-19, she announced that the current 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would be extended from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. and that all businesses excluding supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, doctors and those deemed essential services would remain closed from Wednesday until February 17.
All markets, village shops, gyms, restaurants and bars are to remain closed during what she termed a “national reset”. She said supermarkets would open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday but would close on weekends.
But the BPSA’s Clarke said he is not at all happy with the lockdown, stating that the association had made recommendations to Government, only some of which were acted on.
Clarke said: We strongly believe much more had to be done at the borders and they have actually done something about it…and we also believe that the protocols had to be enforced. There is still too much abuse of the protocols around Barbados.
“The issue in Barbados is not the business houses and not the supermarkets and so on that is creating the virus spread, the businesses in Barbados that is creating the virus spread is in the communities.
“Our position is [that] we have done everything we can possible and continue to so in the business sector. The issue of policing and enforcing… the use of masks should have been done, and it is now being done… and enforcing people in crowds in rural areas and urban collection points to wear masks. And those were some of the things we wanted to see done better.
“I don’t think a lockdown was necessary, but we will support it… the business sector will support, the Government in its decision and we will continue to work with Government and the officials to try and ensure this virus doesn’t spread any further.”
But the main public sector trade union is fully behind the lockdown.
Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Wayne Walrond told Barbados TODAY the action was necessary.
“The NUPW support is guided by the professionals,” Walrond said. “Therefore we support the action taken because it would have been informed through a collaborative process. It is something that even though it is a difficult situation, it is a necessary action to help arrest the situation with the spread of the pandemic.”
The trade union leader said he wished the Government did not have to shut down the country but felt it was for the wellbeing of everybody and safety of the nation.
Some of his main concerns are to ensure that all personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided in a timely manner to frontline health care personnel and the issuance of emergency passes for them.
“There is also the issue that persons who are transported by private vehicles to work out the logistics of not being reported [by police] on their return from dropping off essential workers to work which would obviously be within the curfew hours,” Walrond added
He suggested that more serious attention needs to be given to minimizing the numbers of workers at the workplace by utilizing the work-from-home arrangement as much as practicable.
The umbrella trade union body, the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), is also backing the shutdown.
General Secretary Dennis De Peiza said while lockdown is unfortunate, CTUSAB is in sync with the Social Partnership.
De Peiza appealed to all residents to do all in their power to heed the protocols and other measures during and after the lockdown even though they will be some social, psychological and economic fallout.
He told Barbados TODAY: “At the same time, we have to balance the equation with the safety of the country and ensuring that we can continue to do business after COVID. In other words, we have to have people alive, we have to have people who are well… and we are more concerned with the psychological impact that it would have on the persons going into lockdown and limited finance at their disposal.”
When contacted, an official said the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) was not in a position to comment.
For the general medical profession, the lockdown is a must.
Dr Lynda Williams, president of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), insisted that there had to be a “circuit-breaker” to halt the rising cases of the virus and the deaths.
She said: “We are where we are now and we have to act now. We have to take steps now. I know that a lot of people are still not on board, are not understanding why we are moving to lockdown, but we have to… because if we had more transmission of a more transmissible variant here, then it would mean greater burden, not just for COVID 19, but remember we are also suffering from dengue right now…increasing numbers of dengue cases and increased deaths from dengue…and we are also looking at the fact that we have a high non-communicable disease burden.”
She said this puts stress on the country in normal times and certainly at this time, an increased loss of life is unaffordable due to non-communicable diseases as well.
Dr Williams declared: “So how we got here? Yes we could have done things differently… yes, things could have been instituted earlier and we would have loved that. But we are here and now we have to pull together to get out of this situation.”
At the same time, she called for clear indicators that can be evaluated to decide when the country is able to move from the lockdown to a less restrictive phase.
And the Government’s two main critics – the Peoples’ Party for Democracy and Development (PdP) and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) – agree that the lockdown was long overdue.
PdP Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley told Barbados TODAY: “The lockdown is something I have been calling for for a while. It should really have come much earlier in the month when we saw that there was that sudden spike in the cases.
“I think the country needed the time to pause to give the system time to breathe and the people within the system time to catch up with the obvious spread out there.
“So I support very much the lockdown. It is not for a long period at this stage and hopefully, it gives people on the ground the opportunity to do the community testing, contact tracing so we can get a handle back on this thing.”
Bishop Atherley indicated he would support an extension if necessary.
“And even if at the end of the two weeks we not satisfied that that job is done and we have gotten hold through the process of contact tracing the number of people out there that are involved in the spread, then we would have to reflect on whether or not we need to extend the period. But I support the lockdown,” he declared.
President of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Verla De Peiza said in a statement Wednesday that her party had been advocating for a lockdown since last December.
“Having gone on record consistently since December of 2020 with our recommendation for a reset in relation to both the protocols and the need for a short lockdown we are relieved that the government has seen the wisdom of moving in that direction. We were not coping well,” De Peiza said.
“We truly needed to stop to catch ourselves.”
She acknowledged that the measure would not be easy financially or mentally, but noted that it is the position the country has found itself in today.
The DLP leader said: “It is hoped though that the decision in relation to small village shops which sustained us during the last lockdown, will be revisited. It is one area we had wished addressed.”
“It must be remembered that for some, the village shop is their only shopping option and that $7.00 to get to the supermarket represents a large chunk of their budget.
“What we need now is for Barbadians to recognize going forward the need to protect themselves and their loved ones: follow the protocols; stay home as much as possible, and above all else let us get back to our roots.”