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Allow businesses to reopen but at half capacity, businessman argues

Churches, restaurants, bars, and public transport need to reopen with conditions to stop the economy from its current free fall, businessman Papali'i Grant Percival believes.

As the country finishes its third week of what now will be a six week lockdown period, businesses are closing with no revenue streams to buy supplies, advertise or pay staff.

But Papali'i, who has been able to continue to export his products from Natural Foods International, believes if Government doesn’t lessen the restrictions, while keeping physical distancing a priority, Samoa may be worse off.

Businesses who can provide a physical distancing and sanitation plan to Government should be allowed to resume business, Papali'i argued.

He suggests restaurants, bars and cafes, public transport and even churches should be able to fill to half of their capacity at least without risking crowding, and believes this would enable thousands of people to stay employed.

“You say: if you want to be open you will put in hygiene measures to keep everything sterile, you make sure anyone who comes in is appropriately distanced so they don’t infringe on personal space and people wear masks unless they are eating or drinking.

“Then you keep the economy afloat. We have lost our tourism sector and it was only accommodation but now it’s also the food and beverage sector, it’s a lot more, and we didn’t need to.

Papalii advocates for significant consequences for anyone not adhering to strict conditions, like impounding buses filling to greater than half capacity or not churches not keeping records of its members.

“You have got to have no exceptions. Nobody can accidentally leave quarantine, and if it does happen people should be held to account.”

Papalii has submitted a brief on this concept to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has not confirmed to him whether they did in fact send it on to the Government for consideration. 

He said as well as maintaining physical or social distance, the measures would include documenting every guest, customer or congregant to improve contact tracing should a COVID-19 outbreak occur.

The church leadership, for example, should know exactly where their congregants sit when they come to church so that if one person comes down ill, their immediate ‘neighbours’ in the church can be put into quarantine and monitored. 

“The social infrastructure of the church has been pulled apart but they should be allowed to meet provided they follow hygiene and separation measures,” he said.

“They should have the National Council of Churches be responsible to draft the standards, work with the churches to implement them, certify them, and then having them randomly checked.

“You sit in pew seven and you will always sit in pew seven, so if somebody catches it you can help contact trace really quickly.”

Policing restricted freedoms like this would doubtless be a large task for the state, which has already assigned special powers to Police to clamp down on large gatherings and other breaches of the state of emergency orders. 

But the businessman and former head of Polynesian Airways believes it is the only way to keep Samoa running while it remains without COVID-19 cases.

So far all 31 tested samples of the virus have been negative, and the hospital has not reported any serious respiratory illnesses like pneumonia to the Government, suggesting that despite a lack of testing Samoa is in fact COVID-19 free for now.

While borders remain ostensibly closed, air and sea freight continue and soon more frequent deliveries of medical and other emergency supplies will reach Samoa, leaving small gaps of opportunity for the virus to enter.

“Times are going to be hard, there is no doubt about that and we need to pull together as a nation. We need to forget about politics and playing games, and I am a little concerned we do not seem to be doing so,” Papalii said.

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