Businesses react to new, more restrictive executive order

By The Star Staff

Governor-elect Pedro Pierluisi did not challenge the measures taken Thursday by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to curb the wave of coronavirus infections in Puerto Rico, but island business officials objected to the new restrictions that will go into effect Dec. 7.

“The governor has the right to exercise her position until January 2. I trust her leadership in this area with the work team that is assisting her,” Pierluisi said at a press conference. “What I see is that in the face of the rise in infections and the rise in the use of hospital rooms, and intensive care units, among others, the governor is being very cautious and her intention is to contain these increases.”

The Private Sector Coalition, an organization comprising over 30 island business groups, reiterated its concerns about the restrictions imposed on businesses under the new executive order designed to stem the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases.

Under the new executive order, an islandwide Monday-Saturday nighttime curfew will begin at 9 p.m. starting Dec. 7. The current curfew starts at 10 p.m. All businesses will have to close Sunday as part of a lockdown that will last until Jan. 7. All of this is happening in the middle of the holiday season.

Meanwhile, consumption of alcohol will be restricted on weekends.

José Pérez, a manager at Bambú Burger, a restaurant in Carolina, said the restrictions do not really affect them because they will still be able to do drive-thru, something they have already been doing, even on Sundays.

Over at Plaza Carolina, employees in different stores said the lockdown on Sundays will hurt sales. At financially ailing Sears, an employee noted that the flow of customers is down already, but on Sundays people like to visit the mall and buy.

“Definitely, the time restrictions will hurt,” the employee said on condition of anonymity because she is not allowed to speak for the retailer.

Regarding the impact on the economy, Pierluisi said “I anticipate that Congress will extend the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act.”

“We do not yet know at what time and at what level because the pandemic is affecting the entire nation,” he said.

A financial aid package proposed by the Senate will give $7 billion in financial assistance to all U.S. territories.

Carlos Mellado López, Pierluisi’s designated Health secretary, did not question the measures in the new executive order.

“All measures have to be based on scientific data. And one has to see the objective of the measures that are being taken,” he said. “I’m not questioning them, I respect them, and in fact, I don’t know what they are. When it starts in January everything has to be based on scientific data, number one. Number two, they have helped prevent crowds. For example, I know that the Department of Health has distributed 250 ventilators throughout Puerto Rico, and that these medications are accessible.”

“The other thing is to have the testing be organized,” Mellado López added. “We cannot misuse all the tests because we have resources that we have to optimize.”

The Health secretary-designate was also emphatic about reopening the schools in January.

“We have to open schools, but we have to be prepared,” he said.

“It is a matter of organizing ourselves, it is a matter of this Christmas sacrificing a little and thinking that our goal is going to be that our children can, in one way or another, have some kind of face-to-face class in an organized, scientific way, protecting teachers, protecting children, protecting everyone,” Mellado López said.

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