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COVID-19 Pandemic – A perfect storm says CARICOM leaders

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Posted: Saturday, October 31, 2020. 8:53 pm CST.

By BBN Staff: At its 41st regular meeting, CARICOM Heads of Government acknowledged the relative success of the region in fighting the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but concluded that “member states are now faced with a perfect storm of public health crisis, an economic crisis and a deepening debt crisis.” The meeting was held virtually on October 29th and Belize was represented by Attorney General, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte.

The regional leaders acknowledged that the pandemic exacerbated the development challenges already confronting the region, and noted that some CARICOM States have been more affected than other developing countries. In Belize’s case, the tourism industry has been hardest hit, thousands have lost employment or are on reduced salaries, GDP has contracted by over 20% and government tax revenues have shrunk and no longer able to sustain government’s regular expenditures. In addition, a total of 3,462 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Belize up to the end of October 2020 and 58 deaths have been recorded.

Heads of Government noted that “the economic prospects for the Caribbean had worsened and cited a report by the International Monetary Fund that the Caribbean is the most affected globally by this pandemic, given that it is the most tourism and travel dependent region in the world.” The Heads also noted that the pandemic would also exacerbate already high deficits and debt in many countries in the Region and building back better would have significant capital requirements which required a multi-faceted financing plan.

During the meeting, the Heads called for “a new Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) as well as the refinancing of COVID-related debt into long-term low interest instruments. They also urged the early development and use of a Universal Vulnerability Index to determine countries’ eligibility for development assistance.”

In a communique issued late on Thursday, the Heads recognized that in the absence of a vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to be a grave public health, security and economic threat, and the regional approach must continue to be undertaken to manage these ongoing threats. Towards that end the leaders “welcomed the COVAX Facility as an initiative to secure access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that will afford countries the best opportunity to fast-track access to COVID-19 vaccines”.

After discussing the economic impact the pandemic is having on the region, the Heads of Government agreed to the concept of a Caribbean Economic Recovery and Transformation (CERT) Plan, which has been devised by a regional team of experts under the leadership of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Re-opening and recovery, the Heads agreed “requires a careful balance between reducing restrictive measures and ensuring adequate actions to reduce importation and spread of new cases”.

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