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Fish Fry vendors plead for compassion; met with silence

Arawak Cay vendors have been met with a stone wall of silence after writing to the Competent Authority on July 20 and pleading with him to reconsider the government's indefinite shutdown of the Fish Fry.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis abruptly ordered Arawak Cay and Potter's Cay vendors to close down for an unspecified period, citing an increase in coronavirus cases on several islands. At the time, the businesses had only been open for two weeks after being forced to close down for three months at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They received zero warning from the country's sole competent authority, which meant thousands of dollars in inventory, including fresh produce and seafood, went to waste.

In a letter hand-delivered to the Office of the Prime Minister nine days ago, Rodney Russell, Arawak Cay Association President wrote, "We are seeking permission to remain open to the public, noting that there are no recorded cases of Covid-19 emanating from the Fish Fry on Arawak Cay."

Russell invited the newly formed Covid-19 Task Force to visit Fish Fry to see firsthand the safety protocols that vendors have put in place to ensure the safety of their employees and the public. He noted that business owners spent hundreds of dollars ensuring their restaurants adhered to outlined safety protocols, including putting down social distancing markers and setting up hand sanitizing stations.

He also listed examples of blatant discrimination shown against vendors.

"Arawak Cay restaurants were the first to close and the last to reopen," Russell pointed out.

"Arawak Cay restaurants are the first to close again with no explanation given and no dialogue with the stakeholders. No cases of Covid-19 were ever linked to the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay and if so, it was never communicated."

"Covid cases were linked to Wendy's and Pizza Hut and those restaurants remained open the entire Covid-19 period and still do today," he said.

In fact, before new restrictions were imposed on Monday, the government allowed restaurants to remain open until 9pm in order to meet the request of a well-connected fast-food franchise holder, who reportedly received a positive response to his request within days.

"We feel a major sense of discrimination towards the entire Arawak Cay vendors which is contributing to major losses and hundreds of Bahamian jobs affected and families being displaced," Russell said.

The government has been criticized in several quarters for its hardline approach to Fish Fry and Potter's Cay, which are the only restaurants that have been ordered to close. Critics have pointed out that there are police stations on Arawak Cay and Potter's Cay Dock. If the competent authority is concerned about patrons adhering to social distancing protocols, why not deploy police officers to patrol the popular hangouts to ensure that these requirements are being met?

There are a number of businesses that have been caught with crowds of patrons but they have not been shut down. So why is there a target on the backs of vendors, who have families to support and bills to pay just like everyone else?

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