The coronavirus pandemic has thrown into stark relief our nation’s interconnectedness with the rest of the world.
Since the declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) that Covid-19 is a public health emergency of international concern, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has done remarkably well with our management of this pandemic for which the highest level of alarm has been raised under international law.
While the rates of infection and hospitalization of Covid-19 have been increasing in the United States, other developed countries, and even in some of our regional neighbours, our situation has been stable. Thankfully, all our cases have been imported or import-related and our residents have been able to enjoy a relatively normal existence, with no lock downs or other mandatory orders.
In fact, the Center for Disease Control in the United States recently upgraded SVG to a level one status in relation of Covid-19, meaning that they have assessed the risk of being infected with COVID-19 in SVG as low.
But our success with managing the virus does not insulate us from the economic fall out or even mean that our infection status may not change some time in the future.
Despite our best efforts, once infections continue to rise in the developed world, we continue to be at risk and our economy continues to be negatively impacted. Everytime an airplane lands or a ship or boat docks and passengers disembark, there is a risk that someone carrying the virus may slip through the dragnet established by the Ministry of Health to detect and contain the virus. Tourism, our main foreign exchange earner, has been hard hit by the pandemic and although our hotels and resorts have been reopening slowly, they have been doing so with very low occupancy and only skeleton staffs.
And just last week, attempts to jump start the cruise tourism season in the Caribbean hit a snag following an outbreak of coronavirus onboard a cruiseship in the Grenadines, the first cruise vessel to return to the region since the outbreak of the pandemic. All eyes had been on that cruise, hoping that all would go well and provide proof that cruises could be safely conducted by creating bubbles onboard the ship and without interaction with the local population. Unfortunately for the cruise line, its employees, passengers and our economy, it was not to be — yet.
Apart from the cruise industry and the performance of our existing hotel plants, our country’s medium to long term economic growth is pinned very closely to the successful construction and opening of new hotels on mainland St Vincent. These events as expected, are being delayed because of the pandemic. The longer the pandemic lingers, the longer economic recovery will be delayed and greater the chances that the virus will break through the barriers we have erected at our ports.
We are encouraged by the news about successful vaccine trials in the United States; our health and economic prosperity depends so much on a successful roll out of these vaccine in the US and the rest of the world.