Fears over the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) have been taking a toll on Guyana’s business sector with as many of them having either closed or scaled back operations.
Many Chinese-run businesses in Guyana which depend on all-week shopping by Cuban traders, have closed their doors, so too are several local businesses and fast food enterprises. It is estimated that each Cuban comes to Guyana with at least US$3,000 to purchase clothing, electronic equipment and electrical appliances to take back home to sell.
The popular Indian cuisine restaurant, Shanta’s Puri Shop, last week packed up its tables and chairs in a corner, scaled back its operations to take-away only and sent home at least four workers. But, days later closed its doors altogether. News-Talk Radio also observed that at least one Royal Castle branch was closed.
Kwality Fast Food operations at the Berbice/East Coast car and bus park also shifted its furniture to one side of the flat and only catered for take-away customers. The Kwality Fast Food Manager, Ann Seymour-Roberts, says business has declined considerably.
She says the company decided on a rotation system for staff to enforce social distancing, additional days off and early annual leave to avoid layoffs. Additionally, the fast food manager says the company has installed the necessary convenience for customers and staff to santise.
Managing Director of Camex Restaurants Inc. the franchise holder for Church’s Chicken, Dairy Queen and Mario’s Pizza, Terrence Campbell says business has slowed over the past week. “From Thursday, the 5th of March we noticed a decline in our sales. That was definitely as a result of the election. Certainly, COVID-19 will be added to that impact but it’s hard to differentiate how much of it is COVID, how much of it is the elections but overall we are seeing, perhaps, a 20 percent drop in sales. That 20 percent drop in sales is driven mainly by the fall at Giftland where sales are down 75 percent,” Campbell told News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online News.
Mr Campbell says his company is adopting a new strategy to soften the impact on his mostly single-parent employees in the fast food chain. “I have said I do not want to layoff a single person so it means, then, that we have got to change the way we operate very quickly ahead of the evolving situation and policies that come down from the government so that we can continue to sell, we can continue to do business, we can continue to provide this essential service and do it at a level – we are not going to be making profit – do it at a level so that we can maintain our full workforce because more than half of my staff on the restaurant side are single parents so what’s going to happen if I send them home?” said Campbell.
News Talk Radio Guyana also spoke with a small restaurant owner who explained the impact of the COVID-19 measures on his business. “Generally, business has really slowed up big time but you know it is challenging; at the end of the day you have a responsibility to your staff, to some of your customers also who might not have the facility or have the opportunity to prepare their own meals,” he said, adding that he is now shifted his operations to takeout and delivery.
For several days now, the heart of commercial Georgetown has been sparsely populated because there are few buyers and sellers on the streets. There are also fewer commuters, resulting in many minibuses taking longer to get a “full load” before they depart.
Guyana has so far five confirmed cases, including one death, of COVID-19. The Ministry of Public Health has launched a campaign to ensure citizens practise proper hygiene. The Rotary Club of Georgetown has also set up handwashing stations at the Stabroek Market area and Demerara Distillers Limited has donated hand sanitisers.
Meanwhile the service sector has also adopted measures for staff and customers to restrict the spread of the disease. The government issued an advisory discouraging social gathering and for all to practise social distancing. In this regard several government agencies are rotating staff, cutting working hours and employing stringent measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.