Economist Vicente Feliciano. (David Villafañe)

Wanda Vázquez created a "task force" aimed at addressing the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Puerto Rico, revealed economist Vicente Feliciano.

After a meeting with Vázquez and part of the government's economic team at La Fortaleza, Feliciano said the mission of this group - whose members had not been identified by press time - will be to address the economic emergency created by the pandemic.

"As the days go by, construction workers, who are not working; people who work in stores, who are not working; waiters who are not getting tips, telecommunications repairs that are not being done, car repairs to distribute food that are not being done, as time goes by the economy cannot handle this," he said.

Feliciano said the government is working with economic projections, but he added it is not possible to make such an estimate without knowing the projected growth of the coronavirus.

The heads of the departments of State, Economic Development & Commerce, Labor & Human Resources, and Consumer Affairs participated in the meeting.

Ivan Báez, director of Public Affairs at Walmart, developer Federico Stubbe, representatives of the Restaurant Association, and the executive vice president of Chamber for the Marketing and Distribution of the Food Industry (MIDA, Spanish acronym), Manuel Reyes as well as Popular Inc. CEO Ignacio Álvarez, Oriental Bank President José Fernández, and Claro executives also attended the meeting.

Jorge Argüelles Morán, president of the United Retailers Center, said that he brought to the meeting the difficult scenario that the most vulnerable commercial sector is facing.

"Most are family businesses that cannot operate because of the shutdown, and we need the government to somehow take measures to mitigate those losses," Argüelles Morán said.

He mentioned, without providing details, that they suggested alternatives such as postponing a series of payments due in March. Other measures, such as eliminating the entire Sales and Use Tax (SUT) for a determined period and allowing to pick up goods at the docks without having to pay the SUT right here, would have to be consulted with the Oversight Board.

On the possibility of easing the regulations to businesses with a curfew, Argüelles Morán said that was a concern he also brought to the meeting.

"I think that with more restrictive measures such as limiting the number of people in a shop at the same time, avoiding crowding, these businesses could gradually recover," he said.

Marian Díaz collaborated with this story.

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