Castries, Saint Lucia, September 29, 2021:– The pressure continues to mount for the Labour administration to revisit its blanket pledge not to consider mandatory COVID vaccinations, with the island’s small business association joining the growing calls for exactly that.
Saying too many small businesses are running-out-of-business to simply allow the status quo to continue, the Saint Lucia Industrial and Small Business Association (SLISBA) last Thursday (September 24) issued a statement warning that increasing numbers of members were “crumbling under the weight of the pandemic” and “forced to deal with increased economic fragility.”
The association noted that a combination of “temporary closures, curfews and employee absences” due to COVID-19 “are taking a drastic toll on small businesses and will eventually lead to more business closures.”
SLISBA also cited “supply chain challenges, employee health concerns and increasing absenteeism due to the pandemic,” as well as “reductions in demand for services” to make its case.
It said “small shops, entertainment, barber shops, salons, restaurants and bars” were “among the hardest hit.”
SLISBA said some small businesses “are barely hanging-on and have started rotating staff” but with no end in sight to the COVID crisis, “more massive closures” can be expected.
“We therefore support the call for mandatory vaccinations,” the statement said, “which are already becoming the norm in many areas of life, such as travel.”
It continued: “We also call on government to support more sweeping mandatory requirements across all sectors, as a means of simply keeping afloat in these perilous times for small and micro businesses.”
SLISBA said many small business owners “are keen to implement mandatory vaccination requirements for staff and clientele wherever possible.”
The association also called for “more support to implement vaccine mandates, encourage and provide on-side vaccinations where possible and education of employers in many sectors.”
SLISBA also said it “firmly believes that higher vaccination rates are crucial at this time and will determine the extent to which many already-struggling small businesses will be able to weather this crisis.”
According to SLISBA: “It’s truly a matter of life and death for individuals who rely on their businesses to sustain themselves and their families.”
The SLISBA statement follows an earlier call by the Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA), which represents the island’s doctors and dentists, with President Dr Merle Clarke urging government to start with mandatory vaccination for frontline health workers.
Last week, following the death of a pregnant Woman Police Constable (WPC) and her unborn child, closure of several police stations due to 150 officers being in COVID quarantine and with “more than half” of police officers not vaccinated, Police Commissioner Milton Desir called for all police officers to vaccinate.
Also, last week, the Weekend Voice newspaper, in a September 18 editorial, strongly urged the government to revisit its blanket promise, as increasing evidence was showing that it could eventually be forced to consider mandatory vaccination, if that proved to be the only way out of the COVID conundrum.
The SLISBA statement also follows similar sentiments held by many larger businesses that suffer similar effects identified as the medium, small and micro businesses, many of which are (larger firms) quietly and/or silently pleading for government to eventually make vaccinations mandatory, for protection of staff and customers – and survival of their businesses.
The Saint Lucia Chamber of Industry, Agriculture and Commerce, which worked alongside the previous administration to implement protocols and generally support the then Command Center, has so far opted to continue to hold its tongue on the matter of mandatory vaccinations.
But the Chamber will eventually have to take a position, as more of its members support and join the growing calls for mandatory vaccination to keep their doors open.
Saint Lucia Hotels and Tourism Association (SLHTA) Executive Director Noorani Aziz is the new Independent Senator representing not only tourism but all businesses and has said he hopes the government’s decisions would be guided by facts and figures and actual realities (science) than by anything else.
The Manufacturers Association hasn’t spoken on the matter publicly, but is also expected to respond to jits members’ increasing calls for more to be done to help keep their businesses afloat.
The growing calls for mandatory vaccinations are also supported by increasing calls by ordinary citizens to talk shows and in comments on Social Media platforms for government to “do more”, including growing acceptance of and support for the 36-hour weekend lockdowns – and even calls for adopting two-week (14 days) national lockdowns, if necessary.
The USA, Canada and the UK, Australia and New Zealand, G-7 and European Union (EU) member-states, Singapore, South Korea and Japan and an increasing number of African and Asian Latin American and Caribbean states are quickly adopting and/or moving in the direction of widening initial mandatory vaccination measures, including Vaccination Passports.
In CARICOM, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago have also all made statements or taken decisions of late, suggesting they are considering at least making vaccinations mandatory across or in certain parts of the Public Service.
And with schools reopened or reopening, all Caribbean nations are grappling with decisions on vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15, as well as whether students, teachers and staff should be required to vaccinate and/or wear masks in class.
The Saint Lucia situation at all isn’t easy, as the level on non-vaccinated is very high and the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) is even suggesting the island be divided into two sections (758 and 759), as indicated in a press statement last week, interpreted by many as a call to physically divide the island between The Vaccinated (758) and the Unvaccinated (759).
But as the calls grow and the discussion deepens, it is also expected that those still hedging their bets and holding their tongues will eventually have to make their views known, one way or another – for or against mandatory vaccination.