Sun | May 31, 2020

Covid-19 – a new paradigm will emerge in Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | April 1, 2020 | 12:15 AM

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett greets passengers arriving at the Sangster International Airport during an inaugural flight.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett greets passengers arriving at the Sangster International Airport during an inaugural flight.

We need no further reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a global shock of epic proportions. Accordingly, I will depart from the morbid and depressing narrative that you have grown accustomed to over the last several weeks which could have read that in one month tourism arrivals in the Caribbean moved from 30 million to zero and in Jamaica from 4.5 million to zero.

That earnings in the Caribbean moved from US$31 billion to zero and in Jamaica from US$3.1 billion to zero. In respect to employment in the Caribbean, one million persons are affected and, in Jamaica, 350,000. But I will not dwell here, instead, I wish to share with you a message of hope and reflection.

I am of the view that the COVID-19 pandemic will easily be the game changer of this millennium. While the world has witnessed other deadly pandemics in recent history such as the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 and the H1NI outbreak of 2009, never before has a pandemic so quickly and frighteningly rendered countries across the world, so powerless and helpless in such a simultaneous and indiscriminate manner.

Suddenly, all the advanced and seemingly impenetrable technological, scientific and military capabilities that some countries have developed to bolster self-defence and geopolitical supremacy have become useless against this indomitable invisible threat; appropriately called the great equaliser.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also reminded us that, in spite of the lines of demarcation that we draw up to separate ourselves in our daily lives such as class, wealth, zip code, job, religion, nationality, there is ultimately ONE HUMAN RACE sharing the same vulnerabilities and locked into the same fight for its survival.

This pandemic has indeed offered a very profound lesson in humility by showing us that, irrespective of development disparities and against the assumption of the supremacy of some countries, all countries have their moments of strength and weakness that will become self-evident at the right time. In an ironic twist of fate, historically embattled and volatile states and regions have become safer grounds, even if only temporarily, in the fight against the COV1D-19 pandemic than many countries that have become global symbols of power, control and security.

EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY

This crisis has also forced us to quickly embrace the norms of the future digitalised economy in which business relationships and transactions will become increasingly done by digital technology. This new economic paradigm will provide us with an opportunity to discover new modes of functionality and productivity, allow us to balance mobility with responsibility and will help to generate business models that are more resistant to future public health crises. Indeed, the adjustments we are now being forced to make, in terms of shifting to remote services and working remotely, will become the new normal underpinning the ethos of public and private sector organisations in many countries in the post-COV1D-19 era.

This crisis has also provided countries with the opportunity to maximise their full potential by untapping hidden sources of strength and resilience. Facing isolation, reduced trade, reduced inbound travel and tourism and the possibility of economic recession due to the interconnectedness of the global economy, many countries have now been forced to discover new sources of competitive advantage and survival which they are now locating within their own national borders and which they have traditionally overlooked or underutilised. In the end, by forcing countries to be more inward looking in responding to and adjusting to the exogenous shocks induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries would have charted their own path to increased self-reliance which will serve them well in the post-COVID-19 era.

In this moment of darkness, fear and uncertainty, the new vicissitudes of life have also helped many of us to appreciate the things that really matter in life – bonding with children, reconnecting with relatives and loved ones, protecting the elderly, being each other brother’s keepers, sharing with the less fortunate, identifying with the suffering of others, paying closer attention to our diet and health and recognising the temporality of life.

As we continue to fight this crisis together, we are reminded that we have been here before and like we overcame in the past, so shall we again. How quickly we do so will, however, depend significantly on the extent to which we, as citizens, are able to act selflessly and obey precautionary measures, on the one hand, while the State and the private sector must work collaboratively, on the other hand, to deploy resources and lead initiatives to encourage economic resilience as well as to help those who are suffering the greatest. To this end, we must continue to:

n Practise social distancing and limit interactions that will increase vicissitudes exposure to infection.

n Observe regulations about public gatherings.

n Desist from circulating misinformation or fake news that can contribute to more panic and confusion.

n Sterilise infrastructure and ­public facilities.

n Allocate public funds to support the preservation of jobs in both the public and private sectors.

n Introduce measures that will reduce taxes and financial burden on the poor

n Subsidise necessities for the poor including food, housing, medicine, etc.

n Partner with the private sector to transform hotels, hostels and residential rentals into accommodation centres for quarantined or infected persons.

n Revisit our travel and tourism institutional structure

n Prepare plans for public investments

n Closely examine the preparedness of our education and healthcare systems to respond to future shocks.

In so doing, a new paradigm will emerge in Jamaica and the Caribbean. We must build our ­capacity to respond quickly, ­recover sharply and thrive thereafter.