Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Forced to live differently (Part 1) - COVID-19 stirs emotions, new outlook on life

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2020 | 12:30 AM
Kibebi Johnston, managing director of Barcode Jamaica.
Kibebi Johnston, managing director of Barcode Jamaica.

It is like nothing anyone has experienced before in this lifetime. A virus that originated in Wuhan, China, about four months ago, that has brought the entire world to a grinding halt, changing life as we know it.

Now, with all the uncertainties, and with many businesses at a standstill, those who sit at the helm undoubtedly wear a heavy crown, as they try to navigate their personal life and businesses safely through this coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

Kibebi Johnston, managing director (MD) of Barcode Jamaica, providers of full bar services for events islandwide, said that the ordeal has taken a toll on her, both personally and professionally, but she tries to remain strong in the face of adversity.

“Personally, this has affected me a lot, emotionally and mentally, because as a leader (of 400 staffers and contractors), I’m worrying about everybody, my employees who don’t have any income right now, and also the future of my business,” Johnston shared with eProbe.

The Barcode MD said having been in business for 12 years now, she has never experienced anything like this before. For one, her business has never experienced a loss since inception, “so for me now to be in the red like this, it is very hard to see”.

LOST CONTRACTS VALUED IN EXCESS OF $100 MILLION

Like many of us, there were New Year’s resolutions and big plans heading into 2020, but Johnston said all that is now uncertain.

“We had a lot of plans for 2020 that have been affected. We were actually opening another location on the north coast, in Montego Bay, to cover that side of the island. We actually have a full team down there, separate from Kingston. There were clients we started to do business with, but now everything is on hold,” she stated.

“Hopefully, when this is over, we are not detrimentally affected financially and I can still afford to do that expansion.”

Other big plans currently on hold for Johnston include the launch of their training academy (that would provide HEART and other certifications to various types of hospitality staff), which was set to happen in another two or three months. There is also the loss from the postponed Carnival season, which is one of the company’s major clients.

Plans to list Barcode Jamaica on the Junior Market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange have also been put on hold.

In addition, Johnston said the company has lost a number of contracts due to cancelled or postponed events, as Jamaica implements strict measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, with 32 cases now confirmed on the island.

“A number of events have been cancelled and we have other contracts that I don’t think we are going to be able to do this year, so we have lost all of that business,” the MD lamented, noting that losses from March to June are projected to be “well over $100 million”.

“It’s emotionally stressful. For about two days I was in my room thinking about what I was going to do. I was very sad, very down. But I lead a lot of people, so I had to maintain my composure and try to be optimistic,” she revealed to eProbe.

And even while trying to remain positive, Johnston confessed, “It’s tough, because you don’t know how long it’s going to last, and even when you’re being optimistic, part of you is like, ‘oh my God, this is going to last for six months, it could destroy us’. So emotionally, I’m on a roller coaster, but for the most part I have to put on a strong face for my team and give them that support, regardless.”

Closer home, Johnston said outside of worrying about family and friends, there were some nervous moments of her own, thinking that she had contracted the dread respiratory virus.

Self-quarantine

“I am currently on self-quarantine because I just travelled home 10 days ago (from the Dominican Republic and Miami). But one morning when I woke up, I was like, ‘oh my God, why does my throat feel like it’s hurting me … do I have to call the health ministry now’?”

It was, however, a false alarm. Johnston said her sinus had been acting up, and after taking medication, she was fine.

So she is happy to report that she is in good health, working out at home, with only a few more days of self-quarantine left, which, by the way, she says “is quite depressing”.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has advised travellers who, in the last few weeks, came into the island from countries where there is a spread of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for up to 14 days. Individuals who develop symptoms during the period of quarantine are to contact the ministry at the COVID-19 lines for instructions. The numbers are 888-754-7792 and 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683).

(See Part 2 next week, as proprietors share concerns about the future of their business)