Bati Bleki Buzz, Weekly Recap, March 22nd, 2020

Life as we know it, is NOT coming to an end

As you know, it’s not what happens to you in life…. it’s how you react to what has happened to you in life.

Thus, it is important to make good decisions, and GOA last night in an extraordinary press conference put us all on LOCKDOWN.

Specifically:

On March 15, 2020 the Government announced a complete “Lockdown” for all international incoming passengers starting mid-night the 16th to the 17th, ending on the 31st of March 2020. This lockdown will entail the following:
– Residents of Aruba can continue to come in, however a travel advisory shall be instituted for residents basically advising them not to travel.
– Cargo will continue to be able to be flown in.
– Relief flights will be possible as long as the airline is willing to operate them.

The MinPres spoke on behalf of GOA, and compliments to her for her level-headed, presidential performance:

This is all new to us, so the lineup of GOA officials behind The MinPres, tightly packed to fit into the camera frame, fidgeted considerably, touching faces, and hair, adjusting eye-glasses, and when it was their turn to speak, most moved the mike. Most, except the health official, Koolman, who took control of her hand!

During the day, a steady flow of messages from GOA announced the following:

All public activities are cancelled until March 31st, including those organized by GOA, and those already granted a permit. The decision will be revisited, before the end of the month.

All schools and kindergartens are closed for the coming week. The decision will be revisited, before the end of the week.

The focus is on containment and prevention, with special attention to risk groups, such as the elderly and the infirm. There is a ban in place on visits to elderly home facilities.

During the last few days, MINFEC did her share. She undertook supermarket inspections, mobilizing all resources to stop price gauging reported in many local markets. She looked bone-tired, at her press conference, but is doing a good job to regulate prices, and curb the enthusiasm of merchants exploiting the situation.

Other announcements included the MinTour, who started restoring connections of disconnected water meters, for failure to pay bills. He announced those will be reconnected to allow people to…. Wash their hands.

The MinLabor, made public his talks with private sector groups, and union representatives to hammer out a national crisis plan that would include: Relief for business from certain tax payments for these next couple of months; Flexible labor laws to allow reduction of hours/pay, and keep most possible people employed; An emergency social fund to assist the unemployed; SVB taking more responsibility for salaries of those that are sick or in quarantine; Banks and pension funds, meanwhile, are discussing a possible plan to give relief on loan/mortgage payments.

GOA will be working partially, with some public servants working from home. Others, serving the public, will handle a restricted number of people.  

All to be applauded!

While the initial reaction to the Co-Vid 19 threat was sluggish, GOA is now moving in the right direction, all will be well, providing we show restraint, and follow orders.

On the downside:

With all that talk about crisis, and assistance to businesses and citizens, how will GOA trim its payroll cost given the circumstances?

Increase the deficit? Let’s not forget to focus on that.

As far as GOA is concerned, will the crisis just rubber stamp additional expenses?

Most alarming in private sector circles: The business community will have to withstand a huge economic blow. Will the public sector be equally affected, or will public employees be receiving their regular pay checks, at the expense of the private sector?

Second most alarming: Both Gusto nightclub and Zeerover’s were packed yesterday with hordes of locals out and about. What part of social distancing don’t you understand??

Co-Vid 19, update, 2/17/2020

The nightly Rendezvous with the MinPres had a different format last night, as GOA was modeling Social Distancing by conducting the event without an audience, taking questions from the media by remote.

The news sounded positive at first, just one more Co-Vid 19 patient, related to a previous case, hailing from NY. She assured us it was in isolation and in good condition. The MinPres then went on to outline a number of additional, welcome, restrictions, such as closing every bar, restaurant and store by 10pm, regardless of previous permits.

If you didn’t eat or buy it by 10pm, it will have to wait for the following day.

Returning residents, coming off an airplane from abroad, starting today, will have to enter a self-imposed quarantine for 14 days. The MinPres also announced a help line set up by ATA to help repatriate local residents having difficulties to return: They may can call 569-6897 for help.

In addition, there will be no public church services, and the island of Curacao also added no funerals with more than 10 people, because similar to Aruba, our neighbors revealed they have identified 3 cases, and have instituted similar restriction to Aruba, to reduce gatherings of groups of people.

Then late last night, 24Ora broke a story that saddened me beyond words. Apparently a house doctor, from San Nicolas, whose wife fell ill with symptoms of Co-Vid 19 – contracted the virus in NY, during vacation – continued to work, send children to school, and see a great number of local patients in a shared family practice of Dr. Giel, Dr. Boderie and Dr. Wever on the main street of his town.

An astounding case of negligence and ignorance. The health authorities have their hands full this morning, tracking the activities of Dr. Giel and listing the numerous encounters had with co-workers and patients, in order to test all of them. They meanwhile shut down that family practice.

The news item has stunned Aruba. A medical professional who knows better who did not follow protocol, and thus should be charged with criminal negligence, endangering his entire island community with his irresponsible, stupid, conduct.

Yesterday, a number of establishments had announced closing for at least two weeks, with the Gianni’s Group and Casa Tua restaurants among them. The Casino at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino opted to close due to current circumstances on “our One Happy Island surrounding COVID-19.” They will remain closed until further notice. The MinPres applauded these casinos/businesses who have decided to close in protection of employees and the public. 

While those are all concrete positive steps in helping the island combat the threat, the MinPres announced that GOA is working on putting funds in place to assist individuals who will be unemployed. She has asked for help from a number of foreign sources, including the Dutch authorities, but so far none responded favorably. We will have to help ourselves.

GOA is also working on relief options for business, to keep as many people as employed, but so far no concrete steps announced.

The following are press announcements I have received during the day, FYI:

Reminder: Tests are done only when there are symptoms. 

Reminder: Call Center number for those with ALL 3 SYMPTOMS: 280-0101. Send employees home if they have all 3 symptoms and tell them to call the number. 

Reminder: 3 symptoms are fever, difficulty breathing, cough.

Note the following:

There is increased patrolling by police in the community, in anticipation of possible increase in crime.

There is reinforced security at the airport.

Recommendations for businesses:

Stop making non-essential (not crime-related) calls to the police department.

Beef up security if you can (reassign staff, if possible).

For casinos, restaurants, etc.: Limit to 50 customers at any time.

Encourage delivery instead of in-store or in-restaurant service.

Weddings: Limit to 50 guests.

Cancel any non-essential events.

And, of course, continue with precautions:

Keep the work areas sanitized

Have employees wash hands frequently with soap

Have hand sanitizer in various locations

Avoid in-person meetings as much as possible. 

Keep everyone at least 1 meter apart from each other.

Any employee that exhibits all 3 symptoms: coughing, difficulty breathing, fever; send them home and contact Call Center for them to get screened for testing @ 280-0101.

The banks on Aruba will work with employees/persons that have been dramatically affected financially, on a case by case basis. Please advise any employee that is asking about their loan/mortgage payments, to make contact with their lender.

 Customs will work with less staffing and prioritize which shipments they process to let in. Food and medical supplies will have the highest priority.

American Airlines is making no schedule changes for outbound flights through April 24.

The airport has the following update on airlines that have made changes to their schedule, due to our lockdown.

Please note that any airline not mentioned below has not made any changes yet.

The airport will keep us updated and I will publish these

JETBLUE

JetBlue will operate our regular schedule through Wednesday March 18th, with the exception of the last flight 757/1858 JFK-AUA-JFK which was cancelled.

Flights from 3/19-3/31 have been cancelled.

TUI

Flights OR397/398 AMS-PUJ-AUA-AMS of today 16MAR20 will operate as per normal schedule.

SOUTHWEST

Due to sharp declines in demand and new governmental regulations regarding international travel, Southwest Airlines will be examining the possibility of reductions to our international flying in the short term. While I do not have exact details at this time, I did want to reach out to each of our airports to see if I should handle slot returns in any specific format to help streamline the process.

 About Customs, Serlimar and the Banks

A Call for Unity and Consideration

I shuddered when I read that Customs will work with less staffing and prioritize which shipments they process to let in. Food and medical supplies will have the highest priority, they said.

And what about WEB? Our water and electricity plant?

I understand that by medical supplies, Customs meant the hospital.

And what about pharmacies?

Over the counter meds, Kleenex, hand-sanitizer??

How does Customs, an essential contributor to the island’s machinery decide to cut hours???

How would customs agents like it if doctors and nurses decided to cut hours and ‘prioritize.;

Or maybe the Police – which by the way, I have seen a heightened presence, tks – would decide to cut hours, and ‘prioritize.’

Essential workers must keep our wheels turning, with passion and dedication.

Please use your heads, you cannot abandon us now!

We’re in this together. United we stand, divided we fall.

And SERLIMAR?

You cannot crack down on your hours, you too are essential service providers and you must continue to function optimally picking up our trash, albeit less, because we stopped buying beer, Old Parr and bags of ice, we interrupted the party, and are now saving our pennies for the coming days, months, as our source of income dries out!

SERLIMAR: YOU are lucky you have a steady job!

Hang on to your jobs, they will become scarce, as the island becomes unemployed

Plagues and disasters bring out the best and the worst in people.

We expect only the BEST from you!

The Amigo published an item regarding the department of Economic Affairs, ADDING another layer of bureaucracy to the importation of toilet paper, gloves, pampers, wipes, masks and tissue paper.  Permission has now to be granted by a certain technocrat, via email, so that Customs would authorize entry.

THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO ADD ANOTHER LAYER OF BUREAUCRACY, NOW IS THE TIME TO MOVE OUT OF THE WAY, AND REMOVE OBSTACLES.

I will be lighting a Habri Caminda candle today, if the Botica still carries it.

REGARDING THE BANKS

Thank you CMB and Aruba Bank for delaying payments for three months. But no, thanks. Because at the end of that period you will be demanding a bigger payment, for a longer period of time.

You did not drop the interest rate.

Yours earnings will not be affected.

What kind of fake-help is that??

Great PR move, but of no real relief.

Drop the interest rate, or forgo it for the time.

I know you hate to lose money.

But we have just lost our livelihood.

Business as Usual?

The traffic in my neighborhood was overwhelming yesterday.

Cars coming and going in the hundreds.

The beaches were packed.

I also heard from friends that BINGO was played in not one, but FOUR casinos, with mostly elderly clients, sitting together, in close proximity with plenty of flat surfaces, the virus so likes.

Sure, I understand it was a matter of policy to carefully, move us into lockdown, in stages, not to create panic or flame unnecessary fear.

But apparently the local public is undisciplined and the next step should be an enforce #kedabocas, this gradual, polite request did not work, and cute pictures of doctors with signs did not make a difference, time to drop the carrot and use the stick.

On the economic front if you got used to seeing the MinPres on TV every morning and night reporting on the number of Co-Vid19 patients, prepare to see her replaced by Health Department officials, because she has bigger fish to fry.

This island will be unemployed soon. And for 3 to 6 months. So fasten your seat belt. We must figure out how to feed perhaps up to 40k people, out of money.

I talked with some of my friends in hospitality.

HORECA salaries, he said, are made of service charge, tips, and a very basic salary. That service charge and tip portion, has already disappeared. And the basic salary portion of line-employees is paid every two weeks, according to the number of hours they work. They work, they get paid. They don’t work, they probably get minimum wages, if lucky, not everywhere. Some pay checks have disappeared altogether.

So, if you’re lucky and you are working for a conscientious operator who values his people and wants to keep the team together for better times, you will probably take home a salary, equivalent to a five-day work-week.

Be grateful. Many local businesses will have to shoulder heavy payrolls with ZERO income, out of cash flow. And there are only a handful of local companies with reserves and available funds.

Most companies cannot afford to shoulder the burden of paying their employees, even reduced amounts, for the next 6 months.

All temps were probably let go already, all recent-hires, all stagiers, and all contractors.  

Then both companies and individuals have to pay, water, electricity, telephone/communication, rent, mortgages, and taxes. Fuhgeddaboudit, the money will never reach.

Locals will not be able to feed their children. This is the classic case of living from pay check to pay check where a single emergency topples the house of cards.

Unable to feed their children, who are on the street because schools are closed, locals will experience desperate times.  And GOA must make resources available.

Hence, the bigger fish to fry, the MinPres will use her time, to make good plans, and venture out into the world for help. Don’t take no for an answer.

(In the Netherlands the government pays up to 70% of salaries, so employers are responsible for just 30%)

If all else fails, I am packed, standing with my suitcase at the door, with the dogs and my bee hive on standby, ready to take the first KLM flight out to the motherland to sign up there for unemployment benefits.

Remember 1986? A great number of Arubans relocated to the Netherlands, hat in hand, and settled there for lack of work on the island.

Incidentally, SVB just sent out a notice for a two-week extension on payment, because they are closed. ARE YOU JOKING? You should freeze payments to alleviate the pain, like most countries, be nice!   

Home Schooling

The MinEdu announced a home schooling program which will take advantage on existing learning environments for students and teachers.

This platform has been in use, lightly, for the past seven years, and will now increase in popularity, otherwise the real loser from the Co-Vid19 saga will be the future, producing undereducated graduates, if there is such a thing, but you know what I mean, untaught, uninformed and unqualified people.

Most students in our system have already finished the second semester of learning for the current school year, before schools were shut down. But we should be concerned about seniors, who are supposed to take their almost-finals in April, and their final-finals, in June.

Teachers functioning in the new reality of virtual teaching should keep in mind that their students will be home when at best, one parent is unemployed, and at worst both.

Students will be stressed, and there is no need to overburden them with assignments. Ease them into this novel experience, don’t barrage them with demands.

Perhaps the home has no internet, for lack of funds, perhaps the atmosphere is tense. They are many extenuating circumstances. We should be sensitive to that.

Teachers should also adjust to the new reality, NO vacation bonus, NO back to school bonus, that is a loss of two salaries.   

 

The Central Bank Communicates

The Central Bank sent out a communication banning non-essential payments, making more money available to the banks – don’t worry, small businesses will probably have zero access to that – among other policy changes.

This is just beginning. Aruba has an average of 6 to 8 months of foreign reserves. Perhaps now, due to cheap oil, maybe as low as $20 a barrel, and much lesser consumption by WEB and residents, and consequently less importation of oil, due to zero tourism, we might stretch it to 8 to 10 months.

If at the end of the summer this Co-Vid19 ordeal is still around, we really have to strap ourselves.

We are poor, and up the famous creek without a paddle.

SILVER LINING: Perhaps now, everyone understand that we MUST diversify, find a non-tourist related economic pillars and stop placing all eggs in one basket.

SILVER LINING: We will finally give up the antiquated way of doing business and usher in Telemedicine, remote-schooling, on-line everything, this will finally revolutionize the way we do business and the way we live.  

Meanwhile: We will have to gear up to feed 40k people who will not have money to feed themselves, locals, migrant workers and illegals. The MinLabor started with a good plan!

More later.

What we learn from patient #1

As reported in the media, Co-Vid19 patient #1 was here to teach the IT people of WEB to trouble-shoot a printer they had bought, designed to send us monthly bills.

In the past Elmar printed the bills for both companies, and sent them to the post office for delivery.

Now WEB apparently decided to break away, buy its own program, its own printer, and import its own advisor.

Why would you fix something that ain’t broke, and I mean the combined billing??

Why do we now get TWO separate invoices?? And on a different billing cycle, convenient to those lining up at WEB and Elmar, NOT to those paying online.

As I already stated, the change in due dates, was introduced to accommodate the off-line population, instead of quantum-leaping on-line users.

Basically, we now have two subsidized incomes for the redundant post office.

Dear Web, it might be convenient for you but it is NOT user friendly. You should have used the opportunity to digitalize us, to FINALLY usher in efficiency.

Printer? That is so yesterday.

And while we are talking about Web and Elmar: When will you allow people to hook up their solar panels instead of holding them back, and arresting progress.

The downside of Co-Vid19 patient #1 was the lamentable negative PR aspect for Aruba: The live footage of the imported virus, as the American patient is driven into Los Angeles from the airport with close coverage chopper. They totally failed to mention HE brought the virus in here!

Silver lining: Did I understand that the $80.000 charge for the air ambulance was paid by Ronald Moroni’s insurance company? And gratefully, I understand that he is fully recovered and back home with his wife!

Think out of the box

The Co-Vid19 crisis has proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that what we tolerated so far, now works against us.

We must use this opportunity to innovate, change, usher in the 21st century, better late than ever.

This is the time of health, social, and economic crisis, and we must form a bi-partisan government, with forward-thinking leadership, union leaders, business people, accepted by both the Coalition and the Opposition, in order to get stuff done.

We have a brave and determined MinPres. Thanks-you, please get some rest every once in a while. But will her decisions be welcomed by green and yellow Arubans alike?

In view of ZERO GDP, we now require across-the-board consensus, and what we have is not good enough.

Yes, ZERO GDP.

We must organize a crisis government, get some help from the Netherlands, thank-you, and think out of the box.

This is about survival. Not about winning elections.

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March 22, 2020
Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster