The Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (PRCC) affirmed that its members, of which 83 percent are small and midsize businesses, have had serious difficulties persevering through the COVID-19 emergency, adding that regressing the economic reactivation would be “devastating” for these establishments.
According to economist Gustavo Vélez, the data published by the P.R. Department of Labor and Human Resources indicate that on April and May non-salaried employment suffered a contraction of 10.1 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively.
“Prior to the start of COVID-19, employment was at 885,000 jobs,” said PRCC President Juan Carlos Agosto.
However, the idea of quarantine was to eradicate or minimize the pandemic. Now, after several weeks of the phased opening, there is a considerable increase, which some health professionals said it was to be expected. At the time of this writing, the P.R. Department of Health’s coronavirus tracker page states that there are 2,904 confirmed cases, 7,219 probable cases, and 169 deaths.
Due to increased levels of infection, Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced at a press conference Monday that she might announce stricter measures this week, which may include an extended curfew and a reduced number of businesses allowed to operate. This would delay the economic reactivation phases and set back the progress achieved in the initial reopening stages.
“The difference at the moment is that we have, or should have, much more information regarding the focus of infection and the risk of infection due to activity; this allows us to take informed measures about 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 infections, and the economic data. It is important that any modification in the opening calendar of the economy, focuses primarily on the areas of potentially greater infection,” Agosto said.
He noted that some publications have recommended to keep low-risk businesses open, but he opined that “many” Puerto Rico businesses have efficiently offered alternatives to remain open, such as delivery, carry-out, drive-thru, and online services. “Trade has been reinvented, so at this time, we have to find that balance in Puerto Rico so that trade can continue to develop, while contagion remains controlled.”
Moreover, the PRCC president supported the Health Department’s campaign that urges all businesses and residents to follow health protocols to prevent the spread of infection, adding that businesses have generally been successful in following government regulations and recommendations. He stressed that all residents must wear masks, use hand sanitizer, maintain the recommended physical distance, and avoid high-risk activities.
“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 business owners to continue to implement in our companies all the recommendations of federal and state agencies to ensure that we control the pandemic and continue to open up the economy. If we don't do our part, we can see a setback and nobody, neither the workers nor the employers nor the government, wants that,” Agosto said.