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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan and Johanna Salinas

Chamber: Most businesses won't survive two-week shutdown

Beginning 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 officially takes effect, government operations are taking another break and non-essential businesses are shuttering up again during a two-week trial period.

"It’s unfortunate this is where we’re at right now," Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said. "I was hoping we wouldn’t get to this point. I cannot close my eyes and say, oh really it’s not happening, because it’s happening."

The Guam Chamber of Commerce, however, said reverting to PCOR1 is a disastrous sequel.

Guam, which reopened its economy on May 10, has yet to recover from the previous community shutdown. With a number of businesses closing shop permanently, leaving hundreds unemployed and shrinking government coffers, the local economy is currently relying on large streams of federal aid.

"As many have tried their best to hang on, we are deeply afraid that many more businesses will not survive this two-week mandatory pause," the Chamber said in a statement, expressing dismay over the governor's new directive. "The very companies that have served our island for many years are in grave danger of closing their doors forever."

Among the essential businesses that will be allowed to continue operating include grocery stores, Home Depot, Kmart, curbside farmer’s market, pharmacies, banks, credit unions and gas stations. Dine-in services at restaurants are closed, but take-out orders will be allowed. The construction industry will also remain open.

The governor, who is Covid-infected and currently in isolation, defends her action.

“My whole approach here is we just need to have one intense attack on this virus. And we need everyone—all our community members, be part of this battle,” Leon Guerrero said at Friday's press conference. “Having selective and targeted closing is slow. We need to act fast or else this virus will take over our island. That’s where I am coming from."

If Guam's Covid-19 graph continues to show a spike line, then PCOR 1 would remain in place, the governor said. Guam's Covid-19 cases have hit 500 and the number is anticipated to go up.

The Chamber, however, said the new pause on business operations will not only affect business owners but their employees and families as well.

While government employees will continue to be paid during the government shutdown, private employees will be left empty-handed. "No sales revenue means no pay for private sector employees," the Chamber said.

The Chamber said local businesses have gone "above and beyond" to ensure that their operations are in compliance with CDC and Guam Public Health guidelines despite a daily sense of frustration and uncertainty.

"The additional costs of keeping up with sanitation protocols and low sales revenue have meant the life and death of one company after another over the past several months," the business group said.

The governor maintained that addressing the current public health crisis requires a collective action.

"In order for us to resolve it, we have to be all together with the bombardment that we can to fight this virus. I want them to get a very serious attitude about this virus," she said.

She noted that some businesses and residents are not in full compliance with the public health guidance.

"I’ve been in restaurants and they don’t’ even put their mask on when they’re not eating I’ve been to a restaurant that had a bar and that whole bar wasn’t wearing their masks. I’ve been to funerals where there not wearing their masks. I’ve been to funerals where they’re outside smoking and socializing and not wearing their masks. These positive cases were traced back to funeral homes, and traced back to bars, and traced back to restaurants,” the governor said.

The Chamber said the local government must do more to protect the island's economy, especially small businesses.

"It is our opinion that all businesses are essential. They provide wages for employees and a service to our community. A majority of our businesses have proven that they can operate and be in compliance under extreme public health measures while continuing to serve their customers and keep their workforce employed. They should be allowed to do so," the Chamber said.

Jobwise, Guam is facing the likelihood of becoming a barren land, the Chamber said. When the economy reopens, the employees will no longer have jobs to return to, the business organization said.

The Chamber noted that Guam residents cannot continue to rely on U.S. assistance as the Federal Unemployment Assistance program and other Covid-19-related benefits end in December.

"The government has reported that they do not have the resources to fund the matching requirements of further unemployment assistance. How will our people put food on their table, pay their rent, pay their utilities, or pay their loans? How will our young people just recently graduated be gainfully employed?" the Chamber asked.

"The governor said in her press conference yesterday that 'life should not be normal right now;' and we respectfully disagree with her. We cannot live in a climate of fear. Life was meant to be lived," the Chamber said.

"In this health and economic crises, we agree that we must be more diligent than ever in protecting ourselves and our loved ones. As we protect our vulnerable population and put into practice sanitation protocols, we should still be allowed the freedom to live, work, play and worship. We simply cannot stop living and we certainly cannot continue to live this way."

In response to the Chamber's remarks, Leon Guerrero issued a statement defending her decision.

"Though we can rebuild our economy after a short time in PCOR 1, no one will shop in our stores or stay in our hotels if doing so will likely infect them with Covid-19. If our community is sick, we will have nothing more than a sick economy," she said.

"We live in a small community. When a business closes, odds are I know the family who owned it. I likely ate there or shopped there myself. I spent years trying to help small businesses thrive, now I am doing everything I can to save lives. We must do all we can to make our island healthy again," she added.

The governor said the economy cannot be built at the expense of the community's health. "Now is not the time to divide our island—now is the time to unite and fight together. I ask the Chamber to heed this call," she said.

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