Puerto Rico to begin ‘slow and gradual’ economic reopening Monday

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Puerto Rico, which has been on lock-down since March 16, will begin allowing some businesses to reopen Monday as it tries to pull off a “slow and gradual” economic reactivation, Gov. Wanda Vázquez said.

In a national address Thursday night, Vázquez said some smaller business will be allowed to open as long as they maintain social distancing norms and provide protective equipment to their employees. Among the businesses she mentioned were mortgage brokers, real estate agents, accountants, engineers, optometrists and medical specialists.

Construction and manufacturing firms can begin operating May 11, once they’ve provided the Department of Labor with protocols that guarantee worker safety.

Finally, if all goes well, Vázquez said retail stores, restaurants, barber shops and beauty parlors may be allowed to reopen starting the week of May 18-25. Currently, restaurants are restricted to take-out and delivery operations.

She warned, however, that if there is any indication that the coronavirus contagion is beginning to spike again, “we will return to the current restrictions. We will not risk everything we’ve gained over these weeks.”

Despite the easing, many restrictions will remain in place. While outdoor exercise will be allowed, beaches, parks and recreation centers will remain closed. A 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will also remain in place through at least May 25.

And Vázquez is asking the island’s 3.2 million residents to shelter in place unless they absolutely need to leave their homes.

It’s still unclear what will happen to the island’s important tourism sector. Vázquez said she would be meeting with industry experts in coming days to develop a plan. Currently, visitors to the island are undergoing a health screening and are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Puerto Rico was one of the first U.S. jurisdictions to take broad and deep measures to contain the coronavirus and it now joins dozens of U.S. states that are plotting to reopen.

As of Thursday, the island had registered 1,539 cases of the virus and 92 deaths due to the pandemic. Health Secretary Lorenzo González has said peak contagion would likely occur the second week of May.

“Our focus has been to take all the necessary steps to safeguard the health, life and safety of all the inhabitants of Puerto Rico,” Vázquez said. “We must bear in mind that the increase or decrease in the risk of contagion will depend, to a great extent, on the collaboration of the citizens.”


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