The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that many Caribbean countries risk becoming COVID-19 “economic long-haulers”.
“Much the same as some patients could suffer from lingering illnesses long after the coronavirus infection has passed, the pandemic’s economic fallout might be felt in the region long after the health emergency is controlled,” said the Washington-based financial institution in its Country Focus.
“The reason is that most of its countries rely heavily on tourism. Due to their small size and limited room for manoeuvring, Caribbean economies were among the most affected by the pandemic,” the report stated.
“With annual hotel stays plummeting by 70 per cent and cruise ship travel completely halted, tourism-dependent countries contracted by 9.8 per cent in 2020.”
But the IMF said commodity exporters in the region – Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Guyana – were less affected and saw a mild contraction of 0.2 per cent.
The financial institution said most Caribbean countries managed to contain the virus’ spread initially, and reopened to international travellers in the second half of 2020.
But, it said, renewed waves of infections and travel restrictions in the countries where most visitors normally come from – the United States, United Kingdom and Canada – “have put a much hoped-for tourism rebound in check.
“This could lead to significant long-term scarring,” said the IMF, alluding to the loss of jobs hitting mostly youth, women and less educated workers; increases in poverty and inequality; potential closings and bankruptcies of hotels, resorts and associated tourism services such as restaurants, shops and tour operators; fewer flights to and within the region, as airlines struggle to recover; and loss of global market share, if cruise operators permanently reroute ships to other destinations.
The IMF said the international community has delivered substantial financial support to help the Caribbean fund unprecedented public spending needs, stating that this support helped alleviate near-term pressures.
But, it said, many countries still face a gap due to growing fiscal deficits and tightening borrowing conditions, as the crisis persists.
Assuming no new external financing and realistic tourism scenarios, the IMF estimated the region’s financing gap at around US$4 billion, or 4.8 per cent of the 2020 regional gross domestic product (GDP).
“The ever-present risk of natural disasters could make it even wider,” it warned.
The lending institution said avoiding the long-term effects and seizing the global recovery will require “a nimble combination of short- and medium-term policies.”
It said protecting lives and livelihoods remains the priority, adding that spending on treatment, testing, contact tracing and vaccine access is “imperative to limit the economic scarring.”
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