Chamber of Commerce argues against return to total closure

By John McPhaul

COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow to the economy of Puerto Rico, in particular to small and midsize merchants, “who have had serious difficulties staying afloat in this situation, so returning to a total closure would be devastating,” the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (CCPR) said Tuesday.

According to economist Gustavo Vélez, data published by the island Department of Labor and Human Resources indicate that for the months of April and May, “total non-salaried employment contracted by 10.1 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively,” CCPR President Juan Carlos Agosto said in a written statement.

“Prior to the start of COVID-19, employment was at 885,000 jobs,” he noted.

The initiative “of the quarantine was to eradicate or minimize the pandemic,” Agosto said. “Now, after several weeks of the phased opening, we see a considerable increase, which according to some health professionals was to be expected. According to data published this weekend by the Department of Health, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased to 2,583 while possible infections are estimated at 7,071.”

The CCPR president contended that “the difference at the moment is that we have, or should have, much more information regarding the sources of infection, and the risk of infection due to activity, and this allows us to take informed measures on the steps to follow.”

“There is no doubt that without health there is no economy, but there is also no doubt that before making decisions that impact our citizens and our businesses, we must carefully study and evaluate the data in terms of health and infectionas, and the economic data,” Agosto continued. “It is important that any modification in the scheduled opening of the economy focuses particularly on the areas of potentially greater infection.”

He added that “several publications have recommended keeping those shops that are at low risk for infection open.”

“This data, however, varies from state to state,” Agosto said. “In Puerto Rico, for example, we have seen how many shops offer very effective alternatives for ‘delivery,’ ‘carry-out,’ curbside and online shopping. Commerce has been reinvented, so at this moment, we have to find that balance in Puerto Rico so that trade can continue to develop, while infection remains controlled.”

The CCPR president also supported the Health Department campaign that urges everyone to follow the recommendations for avoiding infections.

“We should all wear our masks, use our antibacterial gel, keep the required distance and avoid activities with a high possibility of infection,” Agosto said. “Generally speaking, businesses have done their part by taking extraordinary measures of cleaning, labeling, and [managing] space. Teamwork is going to be essential to get out of this situation. Awareness, information and communication will be an essential part of a solution.

“We call on the entire private sector and on businessmen and women entrepreneurs to continue to implement in our companies all the recommendations of federal and state agencies to ensure that we control the pandemic and can continue to open up the economy. If we do not do our part, we could see a setback and nobody, neither the workers nor the employers nor the government, wants that.”

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