Caribbean countries that succeed in tackling their infection rates have many different challenges but one enemy is common: COVID-19. We look at the bottom 12 Caribbean countries and territories that have the lowest number of active cases to zero active cases as of October 12 (See Caribbean Update Daily Chart). The islands of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines fit this criteria. This article will be a series of 3 parts as we measure up the bottom 12 countries and territories’ success and the challenge in preserving health versus wealth in the new COVID-19 environment.
While many countries are reporting increased cases of COVID-19 especially in the Americas and Europe, these 12 Caribbean islands have demonstrated proven measures and have cause for great optimism. They have acted early and some have tested widely in the fight against the coronavirus disease thereby successfully controlling or preventing widespread transmission of the virus. A matter of fact, six of these Caribbean islands are among the eleven countries in the world with zero active COVID-19 cases; namely: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Montserrat, Saba and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Government and frontline leaders tested
The pandemic has truly tested the leadership and communication skills of Government and frontline leaders; at times showing up their authenticity. It has placed them in a position to demonstrate effective planning and compassion to see successful results amid the frustrations that many communities are feeling as the pandemic lingers with uncertainty around the globe.
Something has been done right in containing the coronavirus in each of the 12 Caribbean countries and territories with the lowest active cases. Whether it was the right time to impose restrictions and lockdowns, effective contact tracing, wide testing or other health measure response, one thing is certain is that something was done right to achieve successful results.
COVID-19 is not a matter of luck, it is a matter of decisive action by Governments and citizens to save lives. Good health is a necessary condition to strive for wealth. The success of each country must culminate swift decision making, good management and planning. As the Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom of the World Health Organization recently stated, “there are no shortcuts, and no silver bullets. The answer is a comprehensive approach, using every tool in the toolbox” to deal with COVID-19.
Taking a look at the response measures by some of these successful islands, Bermuda and Cayman Islands have topped the Caribbean with the most testing for COVID-19 per capita. Strict lockdown, school closures, the mandatory use of mask and mandatory 14-day quarantine have all attributed to some of these islands success story, as appropriate. When fear kicked in, residents were discouraged from hoard shopping and confidence was reassured by medical experts and Government leaders.
The Cayman Islands went from strict lockdown to being able to relax restrictions after successfully managing their health crisis. Currently, Cayman residents are no longer restricted in their hours to shop, bank and leisure. However, there is a 500-people limit for gatherings.
The British Virgin Islands, which had seen a cluster of cases, from illegal entries, is now gradually reducing curfew restrictions and will be opened to visitors from December 1. Just recently, private schools were allowed to reopen and businesses approved to operate with certain health protocols in place.
COVID-19 challenges ahead
A great challenge will be when borders are fully opened if not already for some of these islands. Some countries are using or about to introduce high tech solutions to contain the virus while striking a balance with opening their economy to international travel. For instance, quarantine bracelets/wristbands are being used in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands for self-quarantining persons such as incoming passengers. Manual systems are now being transitioned to digital and contact less systems when conducting business at the British Virgin Islands’ trade and promotions department.
The pandemic has certainly not been easy for anyone. While these islands are enjoying a “low case to COVID free” environment, the dark days of lockdown and hard restrictions are still a threat as cases continue to increase and economic fallouts linger globally. The dark truth is that no one truly knows how and when this virus spread will end. We have seen a constant shift in public health guidance and how organizations operate in the new environment reviewing best practices. There is absolutely no exact formula or plan to handle this world crisis. The pandemic is ongoing and anything can change at any time.
Is saving lives enough to declare COVID-19 success?
The world does not fully understand the long-term health effects for people who were infected with COVID-19. As time lapses, more advanced researches are been done on the disease. There has been some cases of re-infections and other COVID-19 issues in patients reported. When we look at how other countries are combating the pandemic across the globe, there’s no doubt that every nation has been impacted one way or the other. WHO has been advocating for countries to control transmission and save lives as a number one priority. This would include to “find, isolate, test and care for cases, and trace and quarantine their contacts,” the Director General for WHO said in a daily press conference.
When we compare other regions, New Zealand, for instance, has been widely credited for acting early and effectively to stop the spread of the disease. Likewise, these 12 Caribbean islands with the lowest active cases should also be lauded for managing the spread of the virus and saving lives. However, saving lives may arguably not be enough for some of these Caribbean economies. Balancing health and wealth comes with high criticism as Government leaders juggle between health measures and economic fallout affecting their country. Business challenges, loss of livelihood and employment are eminent with any direction that health measure response swings. Although WHO does not encourage 100% lockdown of a country anymore, it has bought time for countries to develop plans, increase their testing capacity, train frontline workers and so forth to manage the pandemic.
New Zealand Beats COVID-19; Now in Recession
New Zealand is in a COVID-19 recession after reporting its worst quarterly Gross Domestic Products (GDP) fall on record. This is a reflection of months in lockdown but according to New Zealand’s finance minister, the decline in GDP does not reflect the thousands of lives saved and reduced burden on health system. Prime Minister Ardern had placed New Zealand on a strict lockdown on March 26 which no one was allowed to leave their home, unless for an hour of exercise, grocery shopping and for medicine. Ardern described her “go hard, go early” approach as saving her people’s lives at any cost. The industries that saw the greatest decline in New Zealand are accommodation, retail, restaurants, transport as well as construction and manufacturing which declined by 25.8% and 13%, respectively. Consumer spending fell by 12%. The worst hit industry in New Zealand is tourism since its borders were closed to visitors in March.
There are long term consequences for the New Zealand economy, but they managed to get on top of the virus early in an effort for the country to bounce back faster. The situation could have been far worst. With population of about 5 million people, New Zealand has recorded under 2,000 positive COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. Just 39 cases remain active as of their October 12 data.
Economic fallout, major international trade partner struggles with COVID-19
Although these Caribbean islands are winning the COVID-19 war, they are still in the middle of a pandemic with an uncertain ending and an economic fallout like they’ve probably never experienced before. Some islands are gradually opening their borders which increases the risk of more COVID-19 infections entering the country. Countries are not only being judged by how they control the spread of the virus but also by how they handle the economic fall out that accompanies the disease. The Caribbean is facing no less of a threat than any one country on the planet. Take the United States of America which is a major international trade partner in tourism and manufacturing for many of these Caribbean islands. The world is watching how the United States is handling the pandemic and their impending general election which is slated for November. Elections can pose a great opportunity to shift the blame of the economic fall outs and loss of lives from COVID-19 while an opportunity can be missed to purely examine the pandemic for what it truly is. On the other hand, it can present an opportunity to present a case for better handling of the pandemic.
Last Tuesday’s Vice Presidential debate in the United States of America, the moderator Susan Page posed one of the biggest topics facing the world, if not the biggest, to Senator Kamala Harris. Moderator Page directed the following comment and questions to Senator Harris that “the on going pandemic that is costing the United States is not under control. Over the past week, John Hopkins reports that “39 states have had more COVID-19 cases over the past 7 days than in the week before. Nine states have set new records. Even if a vaccine is released soon, the next administration will face hard choices. “What would a Biden administration do in January and February that a Trump administration wouldn’t do. Would you impose new lockdown for businesess and schools in hotspots, a federal mandate to wear a mask?”
Senator Harris wants to save America
In response, Senator Harris cried complete failure by the Trump administration in handling the pandemic. Harris said that, “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country. Here are the facts: 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months. Over 7 million people who have contracted this disease. One in five businesses closed. We’re looking at frontline workers who’ve been treated like sacrificial workers. We are looking at over 30 million people who in the last several months had to file for unemployment.”
Trump Administration blamed for COVID-19 failure
The blame didn’t stop there. The debate on the pandemic seemed to turn the election into a massive judgement day. Senator Harris lamented that the Trump administration downplayed the virus from January. “And here’s the thing on January 28, the Vice President and the President were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it is lethal in consequence. That it is airborne. That it will affect young people and that it would be contracted because it is airborne and they knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you. Can you imagine if you knew on January 28 as oppose to March 13. What they knew what you would have done to prepare. They knew and they covered it up,” the Senator told the American people at the vice presidential debate.
Harris stated that President Trump said the coronavirus was a hoax and that they minimized the seriousness of it. “The president said you are on one side of his ledger if you wear a mask , you are on one side of his ledger if you don’t and in spite of that, they still don’t have a plan.” Senator Harris told the Moderator.
Senator Harris has a plan to save the United States of America
“They still don’t have a plan but Joe Biden does and our plan is about what we need to do around a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for the the administration of the vaccine and making sure that it will be free for all,” continued Harris. Harris said, “we need to save our country.”
The pandemic which came with no blueprint on how to handle the disease has infected over 235,000 persons in the Caribbean region and caused over 4,000 deaths. The United States is a major international trade partner of most Caribbean islands. It will take a long time for an unhealthy country to build back a wealthy nation. Can a Biden-Harris administration save the United States of America?
Jamaica has worst 2nd quarter decline in GDP
When we compare Jamaica’s economy, with population of about 3 million people, Jamaica reported an accumulated total of 7,813 positive COVID-19 cases and 146 deaths as of October 12. Over 4,000 cases remain active. Jamaica did not do a full lockdown but they too recorded their worst fall in GDP for a quarter. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported that the Jamaican economy declined by 18.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 when compared to the similar quarter of 2019. This is as a result of declines in both the Services Industries (20.3%) and the Goods Producing Industries (12.7%). The performance of the economy was also blamed as “largely due to the negative impact of the continued spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the measures adopted island wide to limit its spread.”
Minister of Finance, Dr. Nigel Clarke, tweeted last Friday that, “Today STATIN released official GDP growth figures for June. The economy declined by 18.4%, the worst quarterly decline in Ja’s history. COVID19 has done to Jamaica what no hurricane has ever achieved. We are however a resilient people & with God’s help we’ll recover stronger.” Jamaica revealed that a total of seven of the eight industries within the Services Industries recorded declines: Electricity & Water Supply (8.7%), Wholesale & Retail Trade; Repairs; Installation of Machinery & Equipment (15.6%), Hotels & Restaurants (85.6%), Transport, Storage & Communication (20.8%), Finance & Insurance Services (5.5%), Real Estate, Renting & Business Activities (5.5%) and Other Services (44.3%).
STATIN reported that, “the fall in the Hotels & Restaurants industry was due to declines in the groups: hotels & other short- stay accommodation and restaurants, bars and canteens. The performance of the industry was largely due to the closure of the island’s sea and air ports to incoming passengers between March 21, 2020 and June 15, 2020 to limit the risk of imported COVID-19 cases. This resulted in a 99.1 per cent decrease in foreign national arrivals which moved from 635,075 in 2019 to 5,570 in 2020.”
Big rebound for St. Vincent and the Grenadines in August Amid Pandemic
The Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has reported in a radio interview this month that from January 1 to August 31, cumulatively, the Government collected more in revenue and grants for this year at EC$402 million, an increase by 3.4% than the year 2019. The figure for 2019 was EC$388 million. However, capital expenditure has gone up by 126%. St. Vincent and the Grenadines currently has zero active COVID-19 cases. Revenue had increased by 9.5% in the first quarter before the pandemic. The economic performance April was even, slightly down compared to 2019. For the month of May, 20 per cent less revenue was collected than in May 2019 while 8% less than June 2019 was coollected in June of this year. July was even while the month of August saw a big rebound the interview revealed. There are zero active COVID-19 cases in St. Vincent and the Grenadines amid general election which will be held on November 5.
Financial concern in St. Lucia amid success in handling the pandemic
Saint Lucia has the lowest number of confirmed cases in the Caribbean per capita. However, the financial situation in Saint Lucia is concerning. Last Sunday, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet revealed in a television broadcast that, “it is no secret the government has exhausted all the efforts, all of the resources with the NIC [National Insurance Corporation] and donor agencies to provide a social stabilisation programme for the public and for those persons who have lost their jobs.” “We have no money. What we are hoping to do is to gain the strength of our economy so many persons can be re-employed.” “I want to thank those businesses that in the worst of times maintained the employment of and showed the humanitarian side of economics. But the reality is we have a battle. If in fact there is a community outbreak, we have to do everything in our power to contain it as fast as possible,” the Prime Minister added.
Belize and Trinidad moved from flattened curve to an upward trend.
We have seen countries go from a flattened curve to a second and third wave. A few months ago, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, were applauded for keeping cases to near zero while infections increased elsewhere in the Caribbean. The pandemic faith of any country can change swiftly due to a combination of different events. Caribbean Update will be publishing more information in part 2 of this article in the coming days. Please email Mitsy Simpson at email@example.com with any commentaries.