Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Economist ties Caribbean recovery to vaccination

Published:Wednesday | September 22, 2021 | 12:08 AM
Marla Dukharan, right, in conversation with Therese Turner-Jones, general manager, Country Department Caribbean Group of the IDB.
Marla Dukharan, right, in conversation with Therese Turner-Jones, general manager, Country Department Caribbean Group of the IDB.

The slow pace of vaccination in most Caribbean countries is being fingered as a major impediment to the recovery of Caribbean economies from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Economist at Barbados-based, financial technology firm BITT Inc, Marla Dukharan, says region-wide recovery will depend largely on overcoming the significant level of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the region.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA, reports that up to September 13, 2021, with 1,725,642 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections in the region, nearly 17.5 million persons have been vaccinated. Vaccine take-up, however, differs greatly between countries, from a low of 0.3 per cent in the case of Haiti to 75.23 per cent in the case of Cayman Islands. Among members of the regional bloc, the Caribbean Community, the highest rate of vaccination is 46 per cent in the case of St Kitts and Nevis.

ECONOMIC DISLOCATION

Dukharan, was participating in a recent roundtable discussion of the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business in Trinidad, noted that Dutch-speaking Aruba suffered the worst economic dislocation from the pandemic, since that island has the greatest dependency on tourism among Caribbean nations. Saint Lucia, followed by Barbados, The Bahamas, Suriname, Grenada and Jamaica were cited as the other countries most severely affected in terms of economic contraction.

Dukharan is of the view that there is a need for regional economies to reopen and, in the is regard, countries with the highest vaccination rates are said to stand the best chances of successfully re-starting their economies.

“It’s as simple as that. Those who have the highest vaccination rates, and those who learn to get on with life, will have a better chance of recovering and recovering faster,” Dukharan says, noting that low vaccination rates portended high rates of infection and the attendant lockdowns and loss of productivity.

Getting on with life, she said, varies from country to country, as the pandemic represents the worst economic shock for Caribbean countries, with the exception of oil- producing Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname.

Supporting Dukharan’s analysis was Trinidadian manufacturer and CEO of Trinidad Valve & Fitting Company, Ravi Suryadevara, who noted what he was an apparent disconnect between official numbers, such as inflation, and the harsh realities being felt by Caribbean populations. He attributed this to the prevalence of what he described as the unmeasured informal economy.

Global disruption in supplies and transportation, the manufacturer added, is wreaking havoc on regional economies. Despite the negative impact of the pandemic, Suryadevara is of the view that it will force regional governments to move more quickly to make necessary societal and financial adjustments.

“Governments in the region will no longer have the time they envisioned they have to effect the changes they need to. I think you’re seeing the difficulties of adapting to the current scenario even in a fiscal, financial or societal sense. I think that it is occurring at a pace that is uncomfortable to most leadership,” he said.

Suryadevara is cautioning that companies have the ability to survive but must be guided by the question of sustainability. These efforts, he says, should be bolstered by a proper policy framework that allow enterprises to be responsive and nimble.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com