Short-term accommodations, especially those that offer two-three hour rental blocks, are being singled out as a forbidden commercial activity under the existing COVID-19 directive.
The businesses in question are said to be potential hotspots for transmission of the deadly disease, as they cater to persons said to be involved in extramarital affairs, visiting relationships and other interactions involving people from different households.
Head of the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit Ronald Chapman sought to clear the air on the issue that is now at the centre of debate among property owners who offer rooms for as little as 40 dollars an hour.
Among them is the owner of a Christ Church guesthouse that was shut down last Friday under the orders of officers from the unit. But the businessperson, who asked for their name to be withheld, argued that the guest house was open without incident throughout the pandemic including during the last lockdown that lasted from February 3rd to 28th .
The proprietor contended that the guesthouse satisfies the criteria of a “rental accommodation”, which is allowed to operate based on Section 5 (1)(s) of the latest Emergency Management
(Covid-19) (Curfew) (No. 5) Directive, 2021.
According to the directive which embraces the period from March 1-14, “hotels, villas and other rental accommodation, for the entire day (excluding gaming rooms, spas, gyms, and discotheques) and restaurants for room service only”, would be allowed to open.
Furthermore, the upset business owner told Barbados TODAY that checks with more than ten other “four-hour” accommodation businesses revealed they all were open and from all indications, the industry continues to thrive. As a result, the owner has concluded that their business is being unfairly targeted.
But after speaking with the head of the COVID-19 monitoring unit, the guesthouse owner said they were informed that the closure is consistent with the new directive.
“He explained that the ‘four-hour thing’ is causing problems, which I can understand.
If you’re bringing somebody’s woman or somebody’s man for the short period, it could cause COVID-19 spread,” the business owner acknowledged.
“I don’t have a problem being asked to close, but why is everybody else open? … This has not been brought to the public and every other business is open and it is not fair to me. When the supermarkets closed and when barbershops were closed, it had to be brought to the public’s attention. Why has this issue not been properly brought to the public through the news?” the owner queried.
When contacted, Mr. Chapman reiterated that extramarital affairs and visiting relationships have continuously been resulting in the spread of COVID-19 and such temporary accommodations could increase the spread of the virus.
He also argued that under the existing order only residential accommodations that offer a level of permanence are allowed to operate and insisted that the Christ Church facility was in no way being targeted.
“I don’t think that those [short-term guest houses] were closed for nefarious reasons. It’s just that the order said hotels and villas… it has nothing to do with those transient places. Those places were supposed to be locked down because people were supposed to stay at home unless they are leaving for an emergency. So if they are open, it means they are open illegally,” Chapman told Barbados TODAY.
“If you are leaving, you are supposed to be going to the supermarket, the pharmacy or tending to an emergency, not for a four-hour rendezvous. I have checked the order and I am absolutely sure that they are supposed to be closed,” he further stressed.
In fact, he added that such businesses would not even be allowed to offer two or three-day staycations in response to follow-up queries.
The news follows concerns raised on Monday by Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Kenneth George about COVID-19 transmission from house to house. This, he said is thwarting national efforts to control the ongoing wave of community spread.