The vast majority of businesses and retail businesses claim to comply with the restrictions imposed to combat COVID-19 in the most recent executive order, including the prohibition of customer lines in front of establishments, condition the capacity of businesses in up to 25% and closings or limitation of operations for Sundays and hours at night, but everything indicates that – if these restrictions are maintained – this sector will continue to suffer to the point that many businesses will be forced to close.
“In a shopping center that has a parking larger, or in businesses that have parking available, as you can possibly make customers wait in the car and call them. But small and medium-sized businesses that don’t have ample parking can’t do that waiting in the car. They do not have the capacity to house several vehicles, ”lamented Jorge Argüelles, president of the United Center for Retailers.
He argued that businesses are doing their part and have made many adjustments and modifications of all kinds to comply with health recommendations and executive orders, but the situation is becoming increasingly difficult.
“Unfortunately, I am concerned that every time the numbers (of COVID-19) skyrocket, the government’s solution is the same: penalize business and commerce,” he said.
“Businesses have made a great effort to comply with the required measures, put barriers, establish limitations, many even have an employee without producing anything to measure the temperature of the customers. And all that with much less audience for all the restrictions. But the same is not done with the citizen in the street, there is no supervision with the citizen, ”Argüelles indicated.
For gas stations, the outlook also looks difficult, because – according to Ricardo Román, former president of the Gasoline Retailers Association – the sector has seen a 40% decrease in its operations.
“We have responded, following the order. We have labeled the floor, so that customers keep the distance dictated by the order, of six feet, ”said Román.
He clarified that, with the decrease in the volume of customers “due to the same restrictions that citizens have”, there are no lines at the stations. Only in the days before atmospheric events, when more people go to restock, have they had to control the flow of customers.
With a less pessimistic tone, the president of the Retail Trade Association, Iván Báez, said that “clarifications” are being requested from the Secretary of Health in relation to aspects of the executive order, such as “the guidelines for taking the temperature of customers, the issue of lines that certain businesses cannot have, and the issue of Sunday, in order to better manage customer traffic and serve the population in an orderly manner ”.
“Certainly, many businesses with the reduction of capacity (of use) have had to make big adjustments. And certainly, what we are looking for is to achieve the balance in order to continue operating, ”said Báez, who is part of the advisory council that offers recommendations to the government on economic issues.
“That is why we are seeking to clarify all that and maintain operations. We have made great efforts, and we hope that there will be that clarification in these next days, to operate 100% in compliance with the order, but at the same time maintain the livelihood of all those families of our employees. We are making our effort, we want to maintain economic activity, and it is important that we all do our part, ”insisted Báez.
He added that, in that sense of seeking everyone’s cooperation, the Retail Trade Association “launched a campaign to educate about the pandemic. We understand that this is a joint effort, of the private sector, the population, the government. It is an effort by all parties ”.
The president of the CUD, however, was emphatic that more oversight of citizens is needed so that they do not get involved in activities where people gather and do not wear a mask, and reiterated that trade will no longer bear any more limitations.
As an example, he mentioned how last weekend, with the passage of storm Laura, “we saw a group of surfers there on Aviones beach, one of the places they said they were going to monitor. And there they were, agglomerated and, of course, without masks ”.
Argüelles also criticized that, while they limited business, they kept campaigning with groups of people and wondered “if we are going to have the same thing now for the November elections.”
The president of the CUD condemned that while restrictions on trade are imposed, “the government has also failed to maintain a good educational campaign to guide about the pandemic, especially to young people who do not take the matter with all the seriousness it deserves.”
Similarly, he questioned why a large part of the $ 2.24 billion that was allocated to the government through the federal CARES law has not been used.
Argüelles said that, if the situation continues as it is, it is estimated that many businesses report a reduction in their operations of between 40% to 60%, thousands of SMEs and tens of thousands of jobs could be lost.
“We have no choice but to comply, not having lines, with less operation, without help from the government even though there is money. But if we continue in September with the poor supervision of citizens, and they keep the order as it is, or put more restrictions, because by the end of the year this is going to be devastating, “said Argüelles.
Román, for his part, asserted that the gas station industry “has suffered a lot from the restrictions. It is beaten. In the shifts after 10:00 pm, on Sundays, we have had to limit staff, reform the operation, dispense with human resources. Also, you cannot sell alcohol, which is an important income ”.
“In summary, the executive orders, which we understand for health reasons, we have complied with, although we suffer. And we now have more flexibility than other businesses, because some aspects were corrected with respect to the initial orders, but there are other sectors that are controlling, that have discipline, and they are mistreating them a lot. This must be reviewed more closely, there is a fine line between the economy and health, if it is not done well, there will be more unemployment, “said Román.
He added that there should be more coordination with wholesalers, more cooperation, more support for financial structures, for example, with moratoriums, because “if that is not done, many businesses will not be able to survive. Everyone has to cooperate, if not, the retailer will not be able to survive, and everyone will be affected in the end ”.
For his part, Báez agreed that “certainly we cannot have more closures, we cannot have more layoffs, we cannot have many more people depending on the PAN (Nutritional Assistance Program). Having more closures would imply more food risks, more unemployment, more poverty ”.
Báez warned that by September the additional help from federal funds that had been arriving is ending, which would add pressure to this whole situation.
However, he was optimistic and stated that “we see the glass half full, and we are going to harmonize everything and move forward.”