By Peter Richards
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic did not come to an end this year. Death continues to stalk the Caribbean and by the end of 2021, the virus had spawned several variants.
The latest and perhaps the most virulent, Omicron, gave credence to the suggestion by many, including scientists, that the world would have to learn to live with COVID-19.
Figures released by the COVID-19 Public Health Group at the University of the West Indies (UWI) show that up until December 23 this year, in the 20 Caribbean states under surveillance, 438, 030 persons were infected by the virus and 10,612 died.
Despite the emergence of various vaccines to combat the virus and its variants, COVID-19 was also able to thrive, particularly among those who, for reasons ranging from religious to mere foolhardiness, refused to be vaccinated.
Health authorities as well as governments were at pains to understand the reluctance among a high percentage of Caribbean people to take the vaccine, particularly after it had become such a battle to acquire the lifesaving medical product given that the vaccines were being hoarded in the countries where they were being produced, and as political observers later remarked, have become part of the arsenal in the battle for global domination.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, who is demitting his position as chairman of the regional integration movement, CARICOM, at the end of December, perhaps summed up the feelings of the 15-member grouping, when he told his citizens that the island will not be entering 2022 with most, if not all, of the measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, whether or not a significant number of people are vaccinated.
“We are not going to go into 2022 limping and creating more stress and strain for the economy. The economy cannot take any more stress, cannot take any more strain and those who may want to suggest that it may be irresponsible for us to do so, well, you know what, our people would have had several months to get vaccinated,” Browne said.
Caribbean countries have suffered economically as a result of COVID-19 with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicating that while an economic recovery is underway in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the pandemic is still casting “shadows” on much of the region.
In its Regional Economic Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Washington-based financial institution said the recovery was robust in the first quarter of 2021 but lost momentum in some countries in the second quarter, reflecting the rebound in COVID-19 cases.
It said real gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow by 6.3 per cent in 2021, followed by a more moderate growth of three per cent in 2022, but would not catch up with pre-pandemic trends in the medium term as persistent weakness in labour markets raises risks of scarring.
The IMF said that for tourism-dependent countries in the Caribbean, economic growth for this year would be 2.3 per cent, increasing to 4.1 per cent the following year. It said last year the Caribbean recorded minus nine per cent growth.
The tourism dependent countries included Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Regarding commodity exporters in the Caribbean such as Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, economic growth is projected to reach 5.6 per cent this year, increasing to 21.1 per cent next year.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT), Dr Alvin Hilaire, agreed with the IMF projections, noting that Caribbean countries have been hit particularly hard by the virus.
He said while regional countries are currently sorting out the appropriate timing and scale of unwinding the extraordinary COVID-19 fiscal and monetary measures that they had adopted, “as a whole, the region experienced sharp contractions in economic activity that totally erased several years of growth.
“Across the region, governments’ fiscal actions included the provision of tax cuts, tax deferrals and grants to households and businesses as well as direct funding for health infrastructure and medical equipment and personnel.”
Hilaire said that regional central banks lowered their policy rates, injected substantial amounts of liquidity in the banking systems and introduced regulatory moratoria on the treatment of deferred loan payments and restructured facilities.
His Barbados counterpart, Cleviston Haynes, said the pandemic brought into sharp focus many of the vulnerabilities and inequities that have for too long been characteristic of the challenges faced by regional economies.
In the case of Barbados, he said the lesson from the pandemic “has been harsh” and after the initial progress achieved in restoring macroeconomic stability through the reforms initiated under the Barbados Economic and Recovery Transformation (BERT) programme, the pandemic has stymied the recovery, with an unprecedented contraction of the modern Barbados economy.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, said his country’s strong performance in revenue increases has been gobbled away and that all ministry budgets have been “impacted” to reallocate resources for the health challenge caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Even though we have an increase in revenues, those increases in revenues have been essentially absorbed by the requirements for managing the pandemic. We have increased funding of several billion dollars (one Jamaica dollar =US$0.008 cents) directly to health for COVID-19 management, but we have also increased our social safety net allocations,” Holness said.
Grenada’s Finance Minister, Gregory Bowen, delivering the island’s national budget of EC$1.3 billion in November acknowledged that “COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger” and that the country is in a “fight… literally and figuratively, as we combat an unseen enemy that threatens our very existence and our means of survival.”
The IMF said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy of St. Kitts and Nevis has been “severe” and that the complete halt in cruise ship arrivals and very few stayover tourists since the first quarter of 2020 “compounded the pandemic’s impact on domestic activity.”
In a statement following the annual Article IV consultation, the lending agency said the pandemic resulted in an estimated annual decline in gross domestic product (GDP) of 14 per cent, and the general government’s first fiscal deficit (4.7 per cent of GDP) since 2010, “financed by drawing down sizeable deposit buffers.”
“An expected rebound in tourism sets the stage for a strong recovery from 2022 onward, but risks to the outlook remain significant,” the IMF said.
The economic recovery in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) in 2021, continued to be “hobbled” by new waves of the pandemic that continue to put pressure on public finances in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis and Montserrat.
The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) said that activity in the tourism industry, the mainstay of the ECCU economy, remained sluggish.
“The constrained economic performance of the ECCU in the first nine months of 2021 was exacerbated by losses and destruction due to eruptions of the La Soufrière volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines from April 2021, and to the passage of Hurricane Elsa near St. Lucia in July 2021,” it said, adding that the protracted pandemic continues to cause significant hardship, particularly among the most vulnerable groups, such as single-parent households and small businesses in the society.
“Member countries reiterated an appeal to the international community for additional financing to help them provide income support to citizens and small businesses most affected,” the ECCB said, adding that its latest estimates show a more severe contraction in economic activity for 2020 than was initially announced.
Bermuda’s employment dropped to its lowest level in more than 35 years this year as the pandemic wrecked an already struggling economy.
Labour Minister Jason Hayward said that more than 1, 900 jobs were lost last year when COVID-19 forced the government to close Bermuda’s international airport from March 20 until July 1. Total jobs declined by 1, 951 or 5.7 per cent from 34, 378 in 2019 to 32, 427 in 2020 – the lowest employment level recorded since 1985.
But the World Bank has warned Caribbean countries against adopting a “one size fits all approach” to their ongoing economic problems, even as it acknowledged that the scope for diversification is limited because of the small size of many regional countries.
So much so that the bank in its economic forecast for the region noted that while growth is projected to recover at 6.3 per cent in 2021, growth forecasts for the next two years sink to below three per cent, returning to the low growth rates of the 2010s and fueling fears of another lost decade of development.
“Countries in the region made enormous efforts to help families in the midst of the pandemic. Now, the challenge is to generate a robust recovery which provides job opportunities and heals the wounds of the crisis,” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank.
The IMF has moved to help the region deal with the economic situation by rechannelling special drawing rights (SDR), the international reserve asset created by the Washington-based financial institution to supplement its member countries’ official reserves.
To date, a total of SDR 660.7 billion, equivalent to about US$943 billion, have been allocated. This includes the largest-ever allocation of about SDR 456 billion approved on August 2, this year.
The IMF said that the most recent allocation was to address the long-term global need for reserves, and help countries cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr Gene Leon, has since called on developed countries to re-allocate two per cent of their latest SDRs to facilitate investment in climate adaptation measures in small island developing states (SIDS) like those in the Caribbean.
“With only 25 per cent of flows so far going to adaptation and with priorities in national developed contributions overwhelmingly emphasizing adaptation needs, small island developing states are falling behind, yet have no choice but to adapt to climate change now.
“Given current debt sustainability challenges in the Caribbean, it is crucial that we identify and pursue innovative approaches to help scale up public sector investment,” he added.
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Health authorities want to know why the people of the Caribbean are still VACCINE HESITANT, here’s a couple of VALID reasons why:
December 31st, 2021. Australia is now compensating COVID-19 vaccine patients for serious adverse events.
Australia news reports, that the COVID-19 vaccines have led to at least 79,000 adverse reactions. Those patients claiming under $20,000 must provide evidence from their physician; for those with more serious conditions leading to claims over $20,000, they require a review by a panel of LEGAL EXPERTS.
… And meanwhile in Thailand:
The government of Thailand is committing approximately $30 billion (YES, 30 BILLION!!!) to compensate individuals who have experienced adverse side-effects from the COVID-19 vaccine over the past several months, reports the Southeast nations National Health Security Office (NHSO).
To-date, 8,740 claimants out of 11,707 HAVE BEEN COMPENSATED, reported Atthapon Limpanyalet, the Deputy Secretary-general of the NHSO.
As you can see, more nations are now acknowledging that these vaccines can lead to serious injury, and the injured SHOULD BE COMPENSATED.
To the health authorities who are still WONDERING why people of colour are still vaccine hesitant, it is probably because they have been treated terribly by the pharmaceuticals in the past, and then they come across issues, like I have just mentioned from Australia & Thailand – as the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy!
… and to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, have you also created a ‘vaccine injury’ compensation pot for ANTIGUANS AS WELL?
CONTINUED RESPECT TO ALL CRITICAL THINKERS IN ANTIGUA AND AROUND THE WORLD!
I wonder if PM Browne of Antigua and Barbuda has created a compensation plan like these other countries as others are planning to do?. No one wants the not nice outcome. Filing has began at the International Criminal Court in the Hage/ Hauge. Hint. Hint. Hint.
They get who ever they want everytime.
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