Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Rowley laments COVID’s devastating blow to CARICOM - Congressman pledges to fight for Caribbean states

Published:Saturday | February 27, 2021 | 12:14 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Dr Keith Rowley has said that the member states of the regional bloc are expected to receive the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the COVAX Facility by about mid-March.

Jamaica’s Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton had given a February month-end deadline for Jamaica to start receiving the vaccines under the World Health Organisation-led global effort to distribute around two billion vials of vaccines to 92 poor countries by the end of 2021.

Rowley, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, made the disclosure yesterday while making a presentation on ‘Resetting US-Caribbean Relations’, a conversation facilitated by the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan organisation that galvanises US leadership and engagement in the world, in partnership with allies and partners, to shape solutions to global challenges.

Following Rowley’s comments on Thursday that CARICOM would write to the Biden administration, asking Washington to share supplies of vaccines with Caribbean states, a key US Congressman has committed to bat for the regional bloc in the US legislature.

New chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the United States, Congressman Gregory Meeks, said that Congress was looking forward to assisting CARICOM in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As regional neighbours, I strongly believe that working together we can open a new chapter in US-Caribbean ties. A deeper and more resilient relationship is vital for our mutual long-term interest,” he said.

Meeks pledged to be a strong advocate for the Caribbean, especially during these challenging times.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the region’s tourism, the current threat of climate change poses further threats to the Caribbean’s security and economic stability. As chair, mitigating climate change and strengthening disaster resilience is one of my top priorities,” he said.

Debt crisis

In his presentation, Rowley argued that the pandemic had spawned a crisis in health, closed the region’s borders, and crippled economic growth. He said that COVID-19 had also created a debt crisis that was unravelling gains made by CARICOM countries.

Last month, the World Economic Forum sounded a note of caution that job creation was slowing while at the same time job destruction was accelerating.

The CARICOM chairman painted a grim picture of the plight of regional states struggling to stay afloat amid the devastating effects of the pandemic.

He said that the Caribbean region, comprising the small island developing states with low-lying coastal areas – was considered the most tourism and travel-dependent globally.

“These are sectors that have been hard hit, almost decimated, by the pandemic,” said the CARICOM chairman.

Rowley acknowledged Washington’s commitment to channel US$4 billion to the COVAX Facility in the next two years and the G-7’s pledge of US$4.3 billion to develop and distribute effective tests, treatments and vaccines worldwide.

“We recognise that no country can be safe until every country is safe,” he said.

He said that CARICOM wants to work alongside the US and other international partners within a robust multilateral framework to rebuild economies together and ensure that no one was left behind.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres on February 19 said he regretted that “just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines while more than 130 countries have not received a single dose”.

“We implore his resolve to mobilise the entire United Nations apparatus in support of a global vaccination plan and to bring together all those with the required power, expertise and production capacities to achieve this outcome,” Rowley declared.

Rowley said that the United States could play a key role in ensuring that vaccines get to the COVAX Facility so that small- and medium-income countries could start receiving the doses.

The CARICOM chairman reasoned that it would be useless for some countries to vaccinate a large per cent of their citizens while other regions receive little or no vaccines. He suggested that the efforts of these powerful countries could be negatively impacted if variants that could not be treated by the current vaccines developed in other jurisdictions and spread to their populations rendering their inoculations useless.

“It is important to everybody that we deal with the vaccinations across all nations so that the virus will not have the room to mutate and pose greater threats to us.”

He said that the Caribbean should be viewed as an extension of the United States’ responsibility to take care of the health of the population within and on its borders. According to Rowley, CARICOM and the United States, for COVID purposes, are one and the same.