COVID measures hitting bottom line for Jamaican business

Photo by Shyam

Many Jamaican businesses are reeling as the financial impact of the Government’s COVID-19 mitigation measures take their toll. 

According to businesses, the so-called “no-movement” days recently announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, where curfews span the entire day have significantly limited economic activity.

No business can survive on three and a half days of commercial activities says Montego Bay businessman, Sunil Vangani. 

“We are suffering a lot because we are not making enough over three and a half days to cover our expenses, said Vangani, who has been operating several businesses along the north coast for the past 25 years.

In the latest measures, Prime Minister Holness announced six no-movement days spanning Sundays to Tuesdays for a two-week period and ending on 14 September, unless extended.

With hospitals at crisis levels, low rates of vaccination, and COVID-19 cases still spiralling, many not only welcomed the measures, but also are urging the authorities to extend them.

However, according to Vangani, this is not the sentiment of the business community. “The way the lockdowns are being done is creating more harm than good, because markets, banks, and supermarkets are jam-packed on the movement days, creating a greater super-spreader environment,” he argued. 

Moreover, businesses are lamenting the unpredictability of future business. Some contend that the erratic nature of COVID-19 directives is making it difficult to schedule investment, purchases, and other activity to meet what is increasingly unstable demand. 

Asserting that the lockdowns should not extend beyond 14 September, Chairman of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, Godfrey Dyer, said that the authorities “should take a break and just have the lockdown at night and watch it over the next few weeks to see what happens”. 

While the tourism sector has not been as impacted by the curfew restrictions, due to the operation of the government’s Resilient Corridors, which allows many aspects of the tourism sector to operate insulated, there is new concern about international travel warnings.

In a potential blow to the tourism recovery, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has raised the travel advisory for Jamaica to “Level 4: Very High,” warning Americans to avoid travel to the country. It also cautioned that, if travel cannot be avoided, US residents should make sure they are fully vaccinated before travel. 

This comes just days after the UK’s Foreign Office (FCDO) updated its guidance to advise against all non-essential travel to Jamaica. However, since FCDO advisories are distinct from the Department for Transport’s traffic light lists, Jamaica remained in the amber category in the government’s last travel review on 26 August, despite fears that it would be downgraded to red.

“Jamaica’s product remains strong and our attractiveness as a destination is still intact. We have not seen yet any deviation from our projected patterns for the fall and winter,” said Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, who recently welcomed the one millionth tourist to Jamaica since its reopening.

Jamaica is not the only Caribbean country where businesses are coming out against COVID-19 measures. In Barbados, the recent announcement that all schools will be conducted virtually left some businesses seeking financial assistance from the government in order to meet commitments for the millions in school uniforms and supplies they have stocked for the reopening of schools. In St Lucia and Grenada, recent weeks have seen the use of limited and no-movement days, as well as tighter curfew restrictions, which many businesses have said are eroding any remaining profitability in the economy. Both countries are currently recording unprecedented spikes in COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalisations, but with public finances severely constrained, unemployment at unsustainable levels, and vaccination levels lagging, options for regional leaders appear limited. 

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.