Entrepreneurs say a total lockdown could save their businesses

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By Elesha George

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Business owners, most of whom cater mainly to visitors, want the government to go a bit further and announce a total lockdown of the country.

The government announced that effective midnight, yesterday, they would no longer accept commercial flights into the country, which these restaurant and bar owners agree would mean definite closure of all of their businesses.

“I think everything is still very vague,” said Christina Taibi from Paparazzi Pizzeria & Bar.

Owner of Sheer Rocks Restaurant and Catherine’s Café, Alex Grimley, said there may not be any real work in the hotel and tourism industry before November and he believes the government has the chance now to take a hardline approach, if the country’s economy is to bounce back quickly.

“If the Antigua government takes a little stern action now, then I think we have a great chance to position ourselves as a low-risk destination for when the American market picks up.

“I think the government has played a really good hand here; they’ve kept open for as long as they can. The fact that there’s no tourism and everything is down to a halt, I think now is the time to do a lockdown for 30 days so we know exactly what we’re dealing with on the island,” he told Observer.

Grimley stressed that with no money coming in, it is paramount that businesses limit what’s going out. He’d like the government to consider placing a freeze on utility bills, apply concessions on ABST and to secure some sort of protection for businesses who aren’t able to meet rent payments.

He isn’t the only one supporting a lockdown; Patrick Gauducheau, the owner of Le Bistro, agrees that the island should be closed to stop further spread of the coronavirus. 

“I think closing the borders is the most important thing, because once you stop the people coming in with the coronavirus, then the local people can continue to go out or to work or to whatever,” he said.

Jacqui O’s owner, Lance Leonhardt, on the other hand, is happy with the government’s efforts thus far, as he commended the work of Prime Minister Gaston Browne saying, “We’re lucky we’re here in the island of Antigua and that we have a fairly smart gentleman and a good prime minister. He’s tried to keep everything in a positive light and I’m glad we haven’t overarched like some of the other countries.”

He is suggesting that the government consider restaurant rotation so that at least some businesses can make an income and keep people employed.

According to Leonhardt, “Antigua Nice could promote which restaurants are opened on which days and we will still have some restaurants for people to go to. I mean people are still having birthdays, anniversaries that they would like to go out to celebrate”.

While Grimley said it’s a good concept, he doesn’t think it is practical.

“It’s just not realistic. The cost of closing and reopening a restaurant is quite high,” he argued.

Meanwhile, in the absence of definitive instruction from the government, some business owners are also concerned that remaining opening would make them seem insensitive to the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the largest restaurant employers on the island, Jeff Hadeed, told Observer, “we haven’t received a specific directive from government. In the interest of trying to keep people employed, I think they’re holding out on that directive but ultimately the business will come to such a level that it won’t make sense to stay open.

“We’ll eventually have to take the decision into our own hands at some point in time if they’re not willing to, or if they don’t.” “Businesses will have to take action or there’ll be no business to go back to later,” remarked Karine Pecquet-Vidal, owner of Nomad restaurant.

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