(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Budget Presentation)
Every dark cloud has a silver lining. We should take advantage of the opportunity presented by the COVID crisis to deepen our integration in the region, rather than to grandstand and celebrate the misfortunes of others.
Even so, what is there for us to boast about? The notion that St. Vincent and the Grenadines may have a smaller economic decline that other OECS countries does not speak to the strength of our economy or the wisdom of the Minister. It is the opposite. With the worst hotel stock in the OECS and small tourism product, our economic contraction could easily be smaller, as we are coming from a smaller base.
For example, in 2019, our economic growth was the worst in the OECS at 0.49%, worse than Dominica which was just recovering from the ravages of two massive hurricanes in 2019. We were already at the bottom, so not far to fall. To quote the inimitable Bob Dylan, “When ya aint got nothing, you got nothin to lose.”
This is a tale not of a mighty Minister charting a course out of the storm; rather it is a tale of mismanagement and incompetence. It is little wonder we are so overtaxed in this country. We are in a tailspin going nowhere fast. We cannot deal with the economic problems without dealing with the health risk. As the virus spreads in our country, so too will economic hardship and pain.
Other countries in the region with less serious outbreaks have been decisive in their responses. They have restricted movement into the country and within the country, because they understand the virus spreads more rapidly with more contact and interaction there is among people. When we say the government should close the airports and seaports to all but essential travel, including return of nationals, they reject it out of hand.
Yet, they cite the fact that Air Canada has stopped flight to St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a positive thing that might help in the fight against the virus. So, they agree that flights to the country should be curtailed for a time, but they don’t want to make the decision to curtail them. They note with approval that many businesses in the country closed over the COVID holiday weekend, acknowledging that the closure was a good thing for fighting the spread of the disease, yet they did not mandate closure.
And for the record, let me say that the idea I suggested last week to use schools as temporary isolation centres is not the bad idea they tried to say it was. It is an option to be used only because school is out, not to keep school out.
We don’t need all the schools, just a couple large, suitable ones. You don’t have to put in hard walls and extensive facilities. More bathrooms yes. China built an entire field hospital for thousands in a matter of weeks; New York converted the massive Javits Conference Centre into a temporary hospital in a few weeks.
We don’t have their expertise and money, but we can do the required alterations, if the will is there. You mean we could not put in dividers and a few bathrooms in the time since the COVID-19 outbreak began here?
It has been over a month since the (last) outbreak. We would recall it was the same time, December 28th, 2020, that the Minister of Finance was here boasting about how well his government had done to contain the virus and save the economy. Are we so lacking in resources and initiative to get this done or is it that the government, true to form, intends to do as little as possible and hope for the best?
Their COVID strategy is to send people to isolate at home, and hope they will do the right thing. But if a few family members get the disease, they might just stay at home too and not even report their condition, so the numbers are suppressed as well. They seem to think that so long as people are not dying in numbers, they can ride this thing out. That is wicked. It is short-sighted. It is gambling with people’s health and lives.
You are going to wait until more people die before taking necessary action to curb the spread? The other countries around us get it, and by their actions, such as ending travel to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, are actually helping us.
The Barbados government has imposed a temporary lockdown; and is sending health workers into communities all over Barbados to find people who might be infected, test them and respond according to the result. This, because Prime Minister Mottley said the earlier they detect cases of COVID-19 the better the chances of saving lives.
It does not matter the number. If we can save a life, we save life. We know that most people will recover without even feeling sick, but some may not be so fortunate. And it should not be left to chance and to the individuals` own initiative only, to determine if they live or die; the government has a duty to try to find them early and give them the best chance of surviving.
Close our air and sea travel to all but essential travel and commerce, and returning nationals, for 28 days in the first instance. Let us get control of the community spread and not compound the problem with 50 to 100 new visitor arrivals every week.
Provide adequate facilities for isolation of positive cases. Sending people home to isolate and not even checking to see if it is safe to do so in the home, is crazy. The current approach leads to further spread and prolongs the health risk and economic fallout. And use guest houses or hotels if available, but a large school if necessary.