Ramón Leal, former president of Asore. (GFR Media)

After recommendations by the COVID-19 medical task force to gradually reopen Puerto Rico's economy became public, representatives of the three main business sectors included in the plan said yesterday that they have already begun preparations to reopen, but they are waiting for specific dates and for Vázquez Garced´s approval.

According to the medical task force's plan, restaurants would be among the last to fully reopen, but their owners plan to take measures to convince the government that it is safe to reopen and thus begin to recover from the losses they have suffered in recent weeks.

Marisol Vega, president of the Restaurant Association (ASORE, Spanish acronym), anticipated that they will establish signs stating how many people can go into the restaurant and where to queue. "There will be some empty tables and chairs, and everything (plates and cutlery) will be disposable at first. Menus will no longer be reusable," she said, also specifying that there will be physical barriers to separate tables from each other.

Like Vega, former ASORE president Ramón Leal estimated that the restaurant sector has reduced to less than half of what it was before the pandemic. Therefore, Leal, who is part of the governor's economic team, stressed that "it is important to keep in mind that the medical task force makes some recommendations and the economic task force will make others, and it will be up to the governor's discretion, along with her team, to decide when and which sectors will open."

Carlos Rodríguez, president of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association and who represents the island's largest economic sector, welcomed the fact that manufacturing will lead the first group to gradually resume operations but stressed that the medical task force report lacks dates.

"I would hope that 'Tier 1' (construction, mining, information technology, agriculture, and manufacturing), will reopen no earlier than May 4. Every business would need a plan to prevent infection in their workplace before reopening," Rodríguez said.

This member of the governor's economic team believes this process could be carried out by the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety & Health Administration (PROSHA), which already remotely oversees the protocols for textile companies associated with national security on the island.

"This plan doesn't work if without testing and contact tracing capacity from the government. Also, each entrepreneur has a responsibility to maximize prevention measures. That is up to us, not the government," Rodríguez said.

However, sectors such as real estate, which leads the second group to gradually resume operations, need legislative or executive action to reopen.

"Both real estate brokers and mortgage originators are preparedto do this online, but when the most important moment comes, which is to close, the obstacle appears since the notary's office is the one that will handle the transaction. We need to allow the notary's office to do that online, as is already being done in a lot of countries," explained the president and CEO of VRM Companies construction firm, Rafael Rojo.

Senate Bill 1564, by Thomas Rivera Schatz and Héctor Martínez, seeks to do exactly that, but there is no point in closing a sale if the new owners cannot have water and electricity on their new property, Rojo said.

Rojo said that in two of his residential projects, in Las Piedras and Bayamón, the Electric Power Authority and the Aqueducts and Sewers Authority left several of their clients waiting because they are not authorized to connect new consumers to their services during the COVID-19 emergency.


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