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Businessman blasts Gov’t for locking down sections of economy amid COVID-19 crisis
THE Government is facing more flack over its decision to shut down sections of the economy in its bid to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
This time it is businessman Richard Burger who has argued that the Government has overreacted to the pandemic while hurting thousands of Jamaicans and using emergency powers without the necessary parliamentary approval.
Burger, who chairs Marathon Insurance Brokers (MIB), yesterday announced a scheme to provide some relief for health-care practitioners and people who have been laid off because of COVID-19, while blasting the Andrew Holness Administration for its lockdown measures.
“I believe that the number of deaths, the number of reported cases, and the number of infected persons cannot justify the decision that the Government has made to close down the economy,” Burger told the Jamaica Observer, at a time when the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the island stood at 478, with nine deaths.
“We are talking about thousands and thousands of Jamaicans out of work. We are talking about persons who can’t feed their families, and what we are talking about right now is nine dead out of a population of three million people, and we have tested about 6,000 people.
“How can you justify people going bankrupt with those numbers? This is crazy. And I am not only blaming the Government, I am also blaming the Opposition as we are not hearing their voices. I also think the Government needs parliamentary approval for some of these measures. I don’t think the Government can just use emergency powers without the approval of Parliament,” declared Burger.
He noted that being more than 70 years old and asthmatic, with lung problems, he is among the high-risk group for the virus and declared that he understands the possible impact of COVID-19 on Jamaica.
“It is a dangerous virus, but it cannot justify the actions that the Government has taken. You are talking about locking down the country, people out of work, people can’t do what they normally do, their bills are piling up, and that is why we had to do this programme,” said Burger as he pointed to a scheme by MIB to help health -care workers and people who have been laid off.
Under the scheme, dubbed the COVID-19 Helping Hand Programme, MIB will reduce by 50 per cent the next instalment on insurance premium loans for all of its clients who are health care practitioners or laid-off workers in any sector.
“The concern has to do with the impact COVID-19 is having on our front line health workers. These are people who can’t decide that they are staying home today; because of the nature of their job they have to be out and, therefore, they face all the problems and health issues that you and I would not normally face.
“The next loan instalment from these workers will, therefore, be cut by 50 per cent, thereby immediately releasing a much-needed cash reward into the hands of hundreds of health-care workers and workers who have been laid off during this health emergency,” said Burger.
He underscored that the people who get the 50 per cent discount on their next premium will not be expected to pay this amount after the COVID crisis is over.
“So if the next premium payment is $9,000, a health- care worker or anyone who can demonstrate that they were laid off will pay only $4,500 and the rest is written off,” declared Burger, as he noted that the programme, which will end on June 15, will cost MIB some $2 million.
“We see the requests for moratorium coming in to us with increasing frequency; this programme is intended to give a helping hand,” added Burger.
People can access the programme through the MIB online portal www.mibinsure.com.
“We have made the application process very easy for everyone. Our clients will only need a copy of their payslip to verify their status as a health- care worker or the copy of a letter confirming that they were laid off. All of this can be easily done online. If you need help, simply send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and our special team will get back to you in minutes,” said Burger.
The MIB chairman pointed out that people should not visit its offices, as the applications and approval will be done strictly online as MIB has staff in place to quickly process all requests.
“We have managed to keep all our staff employed against great odds. When St Catherine closed down we had people staying at home and all our permanent staff we still kept them on the payroll. Some we asked to go on vacation and they were paid,” said Burger.