By Jorge J. Muñiz Ortiz
San Juan, Jan 4 (EFE).- The explosion of Covid-19 cases in Puerto Rico has led the island’s government, starting Tuesday and lasting through Jan. 18, to shut down nighttime business activities and impose a dry law, among other restrictions.
The new Executive Order 2021-086 signed by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has been roundly criticized by local businessmen and bans alcohol sales and shuts down businesses catering to the public from midnight to 5 am.
The bans, the latest attempt to contain the record number of new Covid-19 cases in the US commonwealth, most of them from the highly contagious Omicron variant, have sparked anger among the owners and managers of small businesses selling food and drink, the working hours of many of which had extended past midnight.
Ivan Villahermosa, the administrator for Casa Cataño and AquiCBB, two local businesses, criticized the new executive order for singling out restaurants and bars as the presumed spots where people are being infected.
“I’m in agreement with everything that’s for the good of the people. What’s happening is that we’re always breaking up and penalizing restaurants and bars,” he said in an interview with EFE on the seaside avenue in Cataño, a municipality next to San Juan.
He said that Casa Cataño will not be affected by the new order, but AquiCBB will be, where the normal closing time is 2 am. Thus, that establishment will have to curtail its operations by two hours, resulting in thousands of dollars in lost potential revenue.
The new order also prohibits all gatherings of more than 250 people, whether at inside or outside venues, but it does not mention shopping centers or big markets to which thousands of shoppers flock at the same time each day.
“So, (they) won’t be hit but (we) will be? That’s why many of us are bothered. We have to be fair with each other,” Villahermosa said.
Given that situation, the businessman proposed that the mayors of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities issue their own orders and restrictions to halt the spread of Covid on the island, where on Tuesday the positive testing rate reached 33.18 percent.
According to figures from the local Health Department, over the past 24 hours more than 8,700 new Covid cases were detected, including cases confirmed with molecular and antigen tests, and four people have died from the virus.
Meanwhile, Jose Lomba, one of the three owners of a event organizing firm called Pinchoneo in Guaynabo, another municipality near San Juan, told EFE that “the government always does things that affect the small businesses and leaves the big ones alone.”
“I don’t believe in closing down, but I do (believe in) taking care of oneself and getting vaccinated. If, in the morning, you think that Covid has hit you, then everyone go home at that time,” said the businessman and event promoter.
Lomba said that Pinchoneo has no specific closing time, since on certain occasions it keeps operating until 4 am to manage a public event, but the new order will force it to shut down and to inform its customers that they have to leave.
“Now, at 11 pm, I have to kick people out and at 12 you have to clean up everything, because if not Finance and Health comes and verifies that there’s no longer any food at the business or they fine you,” he said.
He said that the business will lose about 20 percent of its potential income due to the new order.
The order is not the only one to enter into force over the past week, after capacity restrictions were imposed in local nightspots and negative Covid tests or evidence of vaccination were required of anyone wanting to attend public events.
The governor has also approved a series of measures, including obligatory anti-Covid booster shots for all healthcare personnel, teachers, police officers and restaurant and supermarket workers, among others.