Around 300,000 Puerto Ricans have filed unemployment claims amidst the economic stagnation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s only counting those who are actually eligible for aid. The pandemic had ravaged the country’s economy on an unprecedented scale. Even those who are still employed are seeking out ways to cut down on expenses, least of all taxes.
New Restrictions Threatening To Hurt Businesses Even Further
Despite significant efforts to quell the outbreak, retailers and restaurants say that they’re businesses are still being unjustly restricted. This is about executive order EO-2020-062, which states a number of restrictions to combat the new wave of infections. The executive order reduces commercial activity to near zero except for supermarkets and pharmacies, much to the dismay of small businesses.
Similarly, hotels are also under threat of going out of business, with occupancy levels at only 9 percent on average. With tourism at a standstill, hotels are only catering to those who are stuck in Puerto Rico awaiting the opportunity to fly back home. Before last Friday, September 11, inbound flights had been heavily restricted thanks to the island’s delayed reopening. Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, has been quoted saying that COVID-19 has been three times worse for Puerto Rico tourism than Hurricane Maria.
A Torrent Of Lobbyists
Several leaders of Puerto Rico’s business associations have spoken out against the new set of restrictions. One such leader is Iván Báez, president of the Puerto Rico Retail Trade Association, who reached out to Governor Wanda Vasquez Garced to lift the lockdown mandate. He pointed out that establishments had strictly adhered to recommended safety precautions, even going so far as to hire professional cleaning companies to minimize any health risks.. Given that, he argued, there is no reason for such severe restrictions that only serve to further damage Puerto Rico’s already ailing economy.
A similar argument was given by Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association chairman Pablo Torres. Chairman Torres asked Governor Vazquez to allow the reopening of beaches, hotels, restaurants, and other public commercial spaces, to at least 75% capacity. They also asked to lift the ban on alcohol sales and to re-allow tours on a limited scale.
The Government’s Response
Hearing these pleas, Governor Vazquez, announced that beaches, gyms, and other public areas will be allowed to reopen across the territory. Similarly, restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to increase capacity from 25% to 50%. This move supports by health officials’ findings that COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly, meaning that lockdown measures have been effective.
However, places where social distancing cannot be implemented effectively, such as clubs and bars, will not be allowed to reopen. The reopening will come into effect under a trial period lasting until Oct. 2. Health guidelines such as masks and social distancing will be in full effect. The 10 pm to 5 am curfew will also continue.
While it is true that the reopening of high-risk places may well cause another outbreak, Puerto Rico’s historically struggling economy simply cannot bear the loss of such inactivity. It’ll come down to the business owners themselves to ensure that this revival will not cause COVID-19 to regain a grip on the island’s populace and visitors.