Yesterday’s meeting between a team of ministers from the Government and several of the umbrella bodies representing business interests in the country was a step in the right direction.
Minister of Energy and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young insisted that Government is aware of how frustrated persons may be, how difficult it is for the business community, workers and the vulnerable who have to stay at home and are unable to work.
Young said the Government does not want any business closed for even a minute longer than necessary and the July 4 reopening date announced as the end of the current restriction period, is not set in stone and restrictions can be rolled back sooner if case numbers decline.
The chairman of the Government’s committee said the business sector, in particular AMCHAM, the T&T Chamber of Commerce and Industry and DOMA, advocated that any further restrictions that are needed be put in place by the Government, since the business organisations felt it is better to take the bitter medicine now and hopefully have the results sooner rather than later.
These are all important things but from what emerged, it appears that there was nothing new nor innovative from the meeting. After all, the Government’s statement that it intends to reopen the economy in a phased way, similar to what occurred last year, and that its priority is in preserving lives, is in keeping with the mantra for the start of the pandemic.
“We will sit down with the ministry of health as we begin templating how we are going to open and how we are going to reopen the economy. But to reopen it in a safe manner, we will be using the same template of a phased reopening but there are a lot of things that have come to the table now for us to consider when we are working this out,” Young said.
This suggests that the meeting, while welcome, did not advance anything new from the Government side.
There was no timeline when it is forecast the situation will be brought under control, no timelines for the reopening of the borders and no timeline for the vaccination of the minimum of 70 per cent of the population.
However, it is good that the Government was prepared to at least listen to the concerns of the business community.
Protecting the population is crucial and there seems to be a narrative that the protection of livelihoods is at variance with the protection of people. There is no doubt that gatherings allow for the virus to be spread, but it is also true that with the proper protocols in place and a high level of enforcement and self-discipline, it is possible to preserve lives and livelihoods.
We need innovative approaches now more than ever. Talking is always a good start but action is what is required. At the end of the day, lockdowns cannot be the only solution.