President of the Exuma Chamber of Commerce Pedro Rolle yesterday said the island’s continued lockdown, while other Family Islands have been allowed to return to normal commerce, is detrimental to that island’s local economy.
With no reported cases of COVID-19 on Exuma, Rolle said he is baffled and business owners feel stuck not being able to plan for the future without knowing how much longer the government’s emergency powers will remain in effect.
“I think it’s extremely detrimental from an economic standpoint. We’ve been doing relatively well up to the lockdown. Exuma was a growing economy which was rising in prominence in terms of its place as one of the economic leaders in the country,” he told Guardian Business yesterday.
“But the fact that Exuma remains on lockdown is baffling to us. There may be a reason now for the decision that is being made, we just don’t know what that is.”
During his national address on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that Cat Island, Long Island, Abaco and Andros would be added to the seven other southern islands – Ragged Island, Rum Cay, Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay – that were allowed to reopen for commercial activity.
He did not include Exuma, Eleuthera, San Salvador or the Berry Islands despite those islands not having any reported cases of the virus and borders remaining closed.
“The fact is that no mention was even made of Exuma,” Rolle pointed out.
“Here’s the devastating part of it, more than the fact that we’re closed and can’t do business even on a normal basis, beyond that is that we don’t even know how to plan properly. We can’t schedule things. We rely on Nassau, not just for our supplies. It’s one thing to say you can place an order, but in many cases our business people jump on a plane and they do their business.”
Rolle continued, “And from time to time we need to bring in certain specialists out of Nassau to do certain things, whether it’s construction in some other field. But to do that requires that we make appointments and schedule certain things.”
Looking ahead, Rolle said the positive part of the prime minister’s announcement was the potential reopening of the country’s borders for commercial flights on July 1.
He said given the trajectory the island was on prior to the lockdown and in particular, getting a lot of the tourism business that would have been lost by Abaco because of Hurricane Dorian, he’s hopeful about the pick up in business.
“Exuma definitely will benefit I guess relative to other places when the reopening occurs. How quickly, how open people are to coming? I don’t have a sense of it. I don’t know how reluctant people will be to travel and how long it will take for them to feel confident about travelling. I guess we just have to wait and see,” he said.