In the new phase that expands economic and social operations for the coming weeks, with precautionary measures, preventing COVID-19 infections must prevail as the great collective responsibility in Puerto Rico.
Recent disasters have shown that Puerto Ricans are capable of protecting and caring for themselves and others. This ethical responsibility has again been highlighted in the past ten weeks with the lockdown and domestic confinement to ensure social distance.
For more than two months, most citizens and the private sector have paid a high price for social and economic sacrifice to prevent the spread of the pandemic. They have prevented an escalation of cases of the new strain of the coronavirus that could end up collapsing our weak health system. With the same will we have shown in overcoming the disasters caused by hurricanes and earthquakes, we can revitalize the economy without letting down our guard against the coronavirus.
Starting Tuesday, retail stores, restaurants, beauty salons, barbershops, and other businesses, as well as churches, will be able to resume activities with certain restrictions on hours and the number of people served simultaneously. From that day on, shopping malls will be able to begin making adjustments and preparing staff to create safe spaces for them and the public. Strict compliance with their protocols will be critical to retaining customer support.
Similarly, citizens will be able to go to the beach to exercise, although resorts will remain closed to avoid crowding. This precious opportunity to enjoy the beauty of our beaches demands the responsibility to protect this valuable resource which, although on a smaller scale, continues to be impacted by polluting waste, such as gloves and masks. Every action has an impact on the ecosystem; each citizen must take care of his or her own health, as well as that of others and the environment.
Most of the regulations announced yesterday by Governor Wanda Vázquez are private sector initiatives that have developed protocols for each business area. This proactive approach by businesses to prepare for the internal reorganization needed to deal with the health emergency contrasts, however, with the government's continued lethargy in reopening its own operations, which are necessary for commercial activity and to provide services.
In a week, only a handful of divisions in public offices will have to return to work. From then on, they would start designing plans to incorporate more employees into productive activities, either in person or remotely. The government has to resume its activity efficiently, just as the private sector has done.
Under the argument that Puerto Rico has overcome the coronavirus crisis, the official announcement puts compliance with the new provisions on the shoulders of employers, employees, and citizens in general. According to Governor Vázquez, medical advisors approved this.
Experts have repeatedly expressed concern about the government's picture of the pandemic due to a lack of transparency in the data that would allow for reliable analysis. In this new phase, when there will be more people in public spaces, risks will increase. Therefore, the government's responsibility to be more accountable and to expand the administration of more accurate testing and contact tracing will be higher.
Meanwhile, the government should spend the next few days planning, in consultation, the next reopening phases, in case the curve remains low. Having this information in advance makes it easier for employers and employees to prepare. It will be appropriate to look at the experiences of other countries to understand the successes and mistakes made in the reopening processes.
In the meantime, each sector should assume its share of responsibility with maximum precautions to keep the population free of COVID-19. We hope that the government will respond by strengthening its capacity to provide health and logistical support for the reopening.