At a recent project groundbreaking ceremony, the Prime Minister of Jamaica gave a rousing soundbite that has rippled throughout social media and the region. In essence, he said the Government of Jamaica has two priorities in this pandemic.
Priority NUMBER ONE is to protect the health of Jamaican citizens, and priority NUMBER ONE is to safeguard the economic livelihood of the people of Jamaica. And, in case, anyone thought he misspoke, he went on to clarify that both were his number one priorities and that his government cannot address one and neglect the other because either one neglected will result in loss of lives.
This is the dilemma that regional governments, and indeed, governments throughout the world, now face: how to balance the dire and delicate realities of public health and safety with reopening already fragile economies that are now being devastated by this Covid-19 pandemic.
Here in Grenada, our Prime Minister has stated several times that while we have to balance both, he will continue to be guided by science.
But, what are the scientists saying?
From all reports, whether local, regional or international, the experts are advising that this is our present and foreseeable future reality, and somehow, we will have to learn how to live in this new normal.
What this means is that countries and economies have to open up; so whether at work, school, exercise or shopping, we need to learn to adjust. We need to wear our masks, practice proper hygiene and physical distancing. We need to keep our guard up and to stay alert. For the foreseeable future.
Since the onslaught of Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown, Grenada has already seen 2 suicides and there have been reports of attempts. While we do not know the exact reasons for those, we do know that it has been a challenging period for many and that coping with job losses, lack of physical connections with families and friends, restriction of freedom of movement for weeks at a time, can take a toll. Psychologists continue to warn of the dangers of this period.
Is that reason enough to reopen?
Grenada, like the rest of the Caribbean region, is at a crossroads in the fight against this pandemic. Our economy is tanking, but we still have positive Covid-19 cases; and while we have contained it, we have not eradicated it. Any further microeconomic opening or any reopening of borders increases our chances of an outbreak.
But can we afford to not reopen in the immediate term? No, we cannot.
As nationalistic as we can sometimes be in this region, the reality is that we are a grouping. If one of us sneezes, the other catches a cold. With several of our neighbours already indicating a timeline to reopen regional and international borders, we, as paced as we might be, must prepare feverishly to do the same.
As we contemplate that and ease into it, we must draw on the encouragement of the human and physical health capacity that we have been able to build in the last couple of months. The lockdown bought us time to get our health system to some semblance of readiness to meet the challenges of Covid-19 but, we are under no illusions that our system is strong enough to withstand a vicious outbreak. The developed world has tried, but, despite their best efforts, we have seen the resultant astronomical loss of lives.
We, therefore, continue to work to ensure that economic life is re-established, but under stringent health and safety guidelines. It is the only way to do it.
A critical component of our economic livelihood here in Grenada, and indeed, 25% of our GDP comes from St George’s University. In addition to foreigners, hundreds of Grenadian students study there, and hundreds of Grenadians work there. At some point, therefore, after we have established all relevant safety protocols, we must facilitate re-entry of students, faculty and staff, so that we can put people back to work, back to study, and ensure in that process, like in everything else, we save lives…mentally and economically.
Where does that leave us? With a partnership.
Government continues to do its part to bolster the health system and improve on our capacity to address all aspects of this disease. We also continue to hammer home public education regarding the virus, and best practices to protect us from it. We expect that the private sector too, will join us in this regard, by employing the health and safety guidelines that we have together compiled, so that every employee can feel secure in the workplace.
Most importantly, we urge individual responsibility. Each of us has heard the reminders, the constant messages to protect ourselves and others. Each of us has seen or heard about the havoc this virus is leaving in its trail. We know the dangers, so we must continue to be smart, to stay alert and to exercise common sense in our activities.
The more we employ the safety measures, and the less exposure we have to people, is the more protected we are against Covid-19. It is that simple. But, it is that complicated.
Health and economy. Economy and health. There are no easy answers…but, like us, they go best if they go together.
Ministry of Health