Edmund Bartlett | Vaccine inequity could hinder global recovery
Jamaica, in recent Organization of American States (OAS) and Inter-American Committee on Tourism (CITUR) meetings, has informed of the Government’s strategies and efforts to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector.
This has been through short- to long-term innovative measures such as the tourism resilient corridors to sustain tourism activity for the sector as well as a J$25 billion stimulus package to the wider economy, with allocation of a Tourism Grant to assist businesses operating in the sector affected by COVID-19.
The Jamaican Government has also prioritised assistance to micro, smal, and medium sized enterprises, noting that these businesses constitute the backbone of the Jamaican economy.
In addition, another element of the utmost importance for the recovery of the global economy and tourism is vaccines. We highlight the call, in June of this year, by the heads of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for US$50 billion investment in equitable vaccine distribution that could generate US$9 trillion in global economic returns by 2025. We wholeheartedly believe that “there will be no broad-based recovery without an end to the health crisis. Access to vaccination is key to both”.
Regrettably, at this stage in the pandemic, vaccine inequity persists, where even with over six billion doses of vaccines distributed, the majority of these are in high-income countries whereas the poorest countries have less than one per cent of their population vaccinated.
We agree that equitable global vaccination is not only a moral imperative but also presents long-term economic sense. Given the characteristic of a pandemic, and COVID-19, in particular, there can be no sustained or sustainable global tourism where lower income countries are left behind. This is the premise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — lest we forget.
GRATEFUL FOR GIFTS
In this regard, we welcome and are grateful for gifts of vaccines from our developed partners, and we would stress that these should be timely and effective gifts, with consideration for the expiry dates of vaccines.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), advanced global vaccination roll-out was one factor in the signs of rebound enjoyed by international tourism in June and July 2021. The latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer shows that an estimated 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July 2021, down 67 per cent from July 2019, but still the strongest results since April 2020.
We are pleased to note that our region of the Americas saw a comparatively smaller decrease in international tourist arrivals of 68 per cent than other regions, with the Caribbean showing the best performance among world subregions. This is encouraging news to light our path ahead to continued recovery.
As Director-General Ikonyo-Iweala of the World Trade Organization said, “Sustainable economic and trade recovery can only be achieved with a policy that ensures rapid global access to vaccines.”
The WHO has underscored critical milestones of achieving 40 per cent global vaccination by December 2021 and 70 per cent by June 2022 to end the pandemic. We have the necessary tools, and our eyes must be on the prize for the survival and success of this and future generations.
As we confront the inequitable distribution in vaccines between developed richer nations and lower -income countries of the Global South, we are faced with the additional challenge of vaccine hesitancy among some of our citizens. People are often afraid of uncharted waters, especially in relation to their health, and misinformation fuels this fear.
In Jamaica, with a population of almost three million, we have delivered some 787,602 doses, with only 9.5 per cent of the population recorded as fully vaccinated. The Government has employed creative messaging to inform citizens and encourage vaccination. Public-private partnership has been intensified with agreements inked with companies to assist with vaccination drives in frequently trafficked areas such as supermarkets and shopping areas to facilitate access to vaccines. We are mindful of the more vulnerable among us, and in this regard, mobile vaccination services have been implemented for reach in the rural areas and to poorer households, the elderly, and persons with disabilities who may not be in a position to travel easily for vaccination.
TOURISM VACCINATION TASK FORCE
Specifically in the tourism industry, the Tourism Vaccination Task Force was created as another demonstration of partnership between the public sector (Ministry of Tourism) and the private sector (Private Sector Vaccine Initiative and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association) to facilitate the voluntary COVID-19 vaccination of all 170,000 tourism workers. This is an ambitious target; however, we remain undaunted as in the first three days of the programme, over 2,000 workers were vaccinated.
We are mindful of the role played by “pandemic politics”, which can hinder our recovery efforts. In this regard, international coordination and cooperation are key to ensuring global recognition of safe and effective vaccines so as not to discriminate unduly for inoculation and travel.
I wish to reiterate the point on discrimination. The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the inequities existing within and among countries. Our policies and programmes should be geared at protecting lives and livelihoods for improved quality of life and sustainable development.
Tourism as trade in services is extremely important for countries in the Caribbean and the Americas for its contribution to employment, gross domestic product (GDP), and generation of foreign exchange. As a labour-intensive and people-intensive sector, our gains and losses are too easily reflected in the smiles and sighs of our workers and our tourists. If we put people first, we can find a way through but only in partnership and cooperation at all levels.
The Government of Jamaica reiterates its commitment to the tenets of multilateralism in the OAS and in other international organisations. We will never get vaccine policy right without cooperation. We will never see effective recovery without cooperation.
I call on all countries to consider the realities and how best we can work together to emerge stronger and more resilient.
- Edmund Bartlett, CD, MP, is the Minister of Tourism. Email feedback to email@example.com