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Oversight Board calls for ‘gradual reopening’ of Puerto Rico’s economy

Saying the priority at this time should be broader testing for COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico urged “a gradual reopening of certain elements of the economy to contain the financial effect on the economy as a whole.”

In a letter sent to Gov. Wanda Vázquez, Oversight Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko said the $2.2 billion assigned to Puerto Rico from the CARES Act should be used, “while taking extra precautions for the vulnerable and elderly populations.”

“We understand that at this time a first priority on the island needs to be broader testing and implementing tracing protocols. Yet given the apparent success of your strong social distancing measures, it appears that the next priority should be a gradual reopening of certain elements of the economy to contain the financial effect on the economy as a whole,” Jaresko said.

“There will be, unfortunately, structural changes that occur to entire segments and industries as a result of the new ‘post COVID-19’ world we all share. That said, allowing some businesses to operate, employees to work, and entities to earn revenue so that they can create jobs, provide services, and ultimately, pay taxes, are all essential to the people and government of Puerto Rico,” Jaresko said.

“At the same time, the health and safety of individuals cannot be compromised. That is why an economic reopening must unfold slowly and gradually while keeping priority measures unaltered until this pandemic truly subsides,” she said.

She said the types of companies that could reopen sooner are those that are financial, economic, and healthcare focused “because those areas are essential to the economy and do not necessarily encounter large groups of people in close proximity.”

“Even expanding the healthcare focused services beyond those dedicated to COVID-19 is possible, because strong and safe healthcare requires much more than effective testing and treatment to the ongoing pandemic,” Jaresko said, stressing that the plan to reopen the economy must be slow and gradual “so that companies can regain business, employees can regain work, and governments can regain tax revenue, but the health well-being of individuals is not put at risk.”

Jaresko urged Vázquez to rely on the Economic Task Force she created, “which will be enormously valuable, broadly available, and deeply knowledgeable about financial, economic, and healthcare businesses. We encourage you to consult them for good advice.”

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