This year we will be experiencing a Christmas Season like no other. We may miss the joy of camaraderie, but it should however, serve to remind us of the spirit that is engendered from togetherness.
That spirit of unity has been a cornerstone of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged through the world this past year, our Community harnessed the intellectual and technical capacity available, and successfully managed the health aspects. This resulted in relatively low casualty figures, while containing in large measure the spread of the virus.
The medical and laboratory expertise of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the scientific craft of the University of the West Indies (UWI), the logistical and organisational skills of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and the Regional Security System (RSS) were all deployed to the benefit of our people.
I pay tribute to the hard-working scientists, medical staff and front-line workers who have done yeoman service to their fellow citizens. Praise also goes to the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) for their role in assisting the Community to combat this pandemic, along with a number of friendly countries.
The greatest gift that can be bestowed this season, a vaccine, has already begun to be distributed. We look forward to receiving our share through the COVAX Facility, an initiative to guarantee equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. However, the quota for our Region will only cover 15 percent of the population.
We therefore cannot let our guard down. We must maintain the discipline to ward off the worst effects of the virus.
Resources to obtain more vaccines is a priority. The criterion of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was applied to the financing instrument for the COVAX Facility as the basis to determine which countries get access to vaccines on a concessional basis. There is urgent need to change the criteria for access to the Facility and for overall concessional financing. That is why the Community is advocating strongly for the development and use of a Universal Vulnerability Index as the main criterion to determine access to such funding.
The overall economies of our countries have been hard hit, particularly those directly and indirectly dependent on the tourism, travel and entertainment sectors. The global spread of COVID-19 was propelled by travel, and the curtailment of that activity has acutely affected the Caribbean, which is the world’s most tourism and travel dependent Region. Still, at Christmas 2020 we are thankful for all the blessings and mercies bestowed upon us.
This is a time when the message of Christmas must be carried in our hearts and our deeds, as we seek to be our brother’s keeper and extend a helping hand to those in need.
That is precisely why we stood firmly by the people of Guyana in their quest to uphold the democratic traditions of our Community in the aftermath of the country’s General and Regional Elections last March. The people of Guyana displayed exemplary patience and maturity during the protracted process, and their will prevailed.
The pride and joy with which we started the New Year 2020 was occasioned by St Vincent and the Grenadines becoming the smallest nation to have a voice at the world’s highest forum, the United Nations Security Council. The country took its seat on 1 January 2020 and will be there until 31 December 2021. It was also a moment of pride when, last November, the country had the honour of assuming the Presidency of the Council for that month.
In remembering this year, I must recall and pay tribute to my great friend and Caribbean patriot Professor Owen Arthur. Professor Arthur dedicated his working life to integration and was a strong believer in its power to transform the lives of the people of the Region. His championing of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy evidenced his regional conviction and commitment.
We have come to the end of a year that will not be forgotten. It has shown the remarkable resilience of Caribbean people. It is that strength that will ensure that we not only survive, but thrive and lift our Caribbean Civilisation higher.
It is with that faith and confidence that I wish Happy Holidays to all!