Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister Gaston Browne said on Wednesday that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has wrecked the economies of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping.
Browne, who is also the chairman of the 15-member CARICOM grouping, painted a bleak picture for participants in the virtual global COVID-19 summit organised by the United States.
The CARICOM chairman said that in some Caribbean countries more than 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) was lost, unemployment had risen, poverty was expanded and demands on the state have multiplied, even as revenues have declined steeply.
He told the summit, taking place on the side-lines of the United Nations general assembly that recovery from the economic effects of COVID-19 will be protracted because hard won economic progress had been greatly reversed.
“Therefore, building back will be longer and harder for CARICOM countries than it will be in larger economies with greater resources,” he said.
“Thousands of our people have been infected and thousands have died, many who had not yet begun to enjoy life, and others who had much to contribute.”
Browne said the viral illness must be stopped and nations must act together to build a stronger, better and more prosperous world.
He said CARICOM governments are committed to a global drive to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world’s population by September 2022, including in CARICOM countries.
“From the onset of the pandemic, our 15 governments took joint approaches to tackling the virus, including the pooling of our resources in the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and negotiating together, access to vaccines from friendly countries, including the African Union and the United States.”
Browne said that the region is resolved to strengthen the Trinidad-based CARPHA.
“We will do so to the best of our ability, but we recognise that we will need more help from our international partners, to strengthen our infectious disease preparedness and response capabilities,” he said
He said in his own country vaccinations against COVID-19 were now mandatory for all public sector workers to protect the lives of all, including visitors.
“As a region, CARICOM is determined to overcome the baselessly flawed arguments of those who promote resistance to vaccines, despite the fact that, sadly, the number of hospitalisations and deaths are rising daily,” he said.
“We will continue to educate and inform our people at home to get vaccinated in their own interest and for the public good. Additionally, we continue to raise our voice internationally for the equitable distribution of vaccines at affordable prices and for the reduction in the price of COVID testing.”
The CARICOM chairman said vaccines were a global good and they should not be a commodity for profit at the expense of human life.
“We have already enlarged our health facilities and we are resolved to continue doing so within our means in building a resilient health infrastructure,” he said. “None of us are safe until all of us are safe.
“Therefore, we will work unrelentingly for better coordinated global planning and preparation for any future pandemic, including the provision of resources to poor and vulnerable countries, recognising the imperative of collaboration for the safety of all peoples.”
Browne said the Caribbean will cooperate with all governments “to protect our world and our human civilisation, giving our young people the chance to live a safe, secure, and enjoyable life”.
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