Loíza Street

A popular place to hang out, Loíza Street in Santurce overflows with restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques. >Archive

After months of urging the government to resume various business operations, multiple sectors that received the economic brunt of the restrictions enforced since March over the COVID-19 pandemic expressed satisfaction with the new Executive Order 2020-066 announced by Gov. Wanda Vázquez.

With the new executive order, which came into effect on Sept. 12, and which will be valid until October 2, casinos, gyms and movie theaters are now allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity, as well as beaches and hotel pools.

Restaurants are also permitted to increase their dining room capacity to receive customers by up to 50 percent, compared to the former restriction of 25 percent.

“They listened to our claims and we are thankful. Our employees need to work and they have been fighting for unemployment benefits. We want to contribute to the economy and we are committed to doing so in the right way. Our doors are open for those who have doubts about casinos’ safety measures,” said Ismael Vega, general manager of Casino Metro, who expects that these establishments will eventually be allowed to accept clients at 50 percent capacity.

Gyms—which filed a lawsuit against the government to demand a reopening that was later dismissed—are pleased with the idea of resuming operations, albeit in a complex financial scenario.

“We are pleased because they listened to us and they allowed us to open to be able to offer our services. It’s a mix of joy and nervousness because from Monday onward we will have a rebirth, and working so that people can trust in us again because there has been a lot of negative and erroneous information. We want them to see our efforts to offer our clients a safe space where they can all fulfill their health goals. On the other hand, I hope there are aid and fair agreements with the government because the debts are still accumulating,” said Pablo Acosta, general manager of Crunch Fitness.

In the case of movie theaters, while they are ready to receive their clients, the reopening will take place gradually because they won’t all open at the same time.

“We take in this news with the utmost responsibility and with the commitment to comply and execute all hygiene, distancing and safety protocols by the book. We are ready to welcome our clients and especially our employees, whom we will be contacting as we reopen cinemas. We will work the reopening gradually, starting with several cinemas on Thursday, [Sept.] 17, and others on Sept. 24. Soon, we will announce the movie theaters with the exact dates,” said Mayra Ramírez, director of Marketing at Caribbean Cinemas.

The food industry also benefits from the Executive Order because restaurants are allowed to operate at an extended schedule, open on Sundays and sell alcoholic beverages until 10:00 p.m., in addition to increasing their dining room capacity.

Tourism Sector Boost

Moreover, tourism sectors also benefit from the loosened restrictions. For hotels, inns and restaurants, the reopening of pools, beaches and other entertainment venues are an additional asset to boost reservations and attract visitors.

Clarisa Jiménez, executive director of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA), was satisfied with the decision. “The recovery will take place gradually, returning to relative normalcy. It is an enormous first step and we are very thankful. Now, it’s a matter of everyone giving their best and complying with the established protocols,” she stated.

Jiménez believes that hotels will be able to raise reservations by 50 percent, as recorded during the initial tourism reopening in July. “Although we are not in summer anymore—when there are many people on vacation—we still believe that we will see a similar trend, primarily during the weekends,” she added.

Gadiel Lebrón, executive director of the Puerto Rico Restaurants Association (Asore by its Spanish acronym), echoed their statements. “Several of our requests were conceded, primarily in reopening dining rooms on Sundays, extending the schedule to sell alcoholic beverages and increasing capacity. All of them benefit mainly small and medium-sized businesses. [About] 34 percent of open restaurants are losing money. With this new order, we trust that they may recover and bring back work shifts, which results in more jobs,” he said.

The new Executive Order also allows venues to hosts events, such as concerts and theater shows, in compliance with health and safety protocols and with the approval of the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, political caravans, bars, clubs and “chinchorros” shall remain closed.

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