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To the average follower of Caribbean media, this report just cannot be correct. PAHO must have gotten it wrong! The hemispheric arm of the World Health Organisation recently revealed that Covid-19 cases in our region have increased by 230% in just two months. Really? And Covid-19 deaths have jumped by 123%. PAHO also revealed that up to August 22, 2020, more than 100,000 new cases and some 1,384 deaths have been reported for the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean islands. Taking leading places in the "regional Covid-19 race" are the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Haiti. In addition to these three, there is now community transmission in French Guiana, Suriname, Aruba, Sint Maarten, T&T and the USVI.

In its latest epidemiological report dated August 26, the health organisation reported that though its territory hosts 13% of the world's population, it accounted for 64% of new deaths reported for the last two months. New deaths in the Americas (of which the Caribbean is a part) surpassed 213,000.

Brazil led the way in new deaths globally, followed by the USA, India and Mexico. These four countries accounted for 60% of new deaths. The PAHO report stated that since its June epidemiological report, the global cases rose by 158%, i.e. some 14 million additional cases.

Of concern to PAHO is the infection rate for healthcare workers. The Americas has the highest number of healthcare workers infected in the world. The PAHO Director, Dominican Carissa Etienne, stated, "While our health workers, nurses, doctors and other professionals are just a tiny fraction of our population, they are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Our data shows that nearly 570,000 health workers across our region have fallen ill and more than 2,500 have succumbed to the virus."

So what do these figures say to regional planners and policy-makers?

One of the first things to accept is that expenditure on fighting Covid-19 is a sunk cost. It's gone! Lost Forever! Once is has been made it cannot be recovered, and should thus be ignored when making economic and social decisions.

The report itself contains suggestions like increased contact tracing, social distancing, sheltering in place and limits on public gatherings to slow the spread of the virus. But it would seem that Caribbean States are challenged, financially, to maintain even a low level of sustained compliance with the regime suggested by the global health organisation. With public finance already stretched to their limits in combating natural disasters occasioned by the annual hurricane season, coastal battering by rough seas, frequent floods, mosquito-borne diseases, and an increasing incidence of earthquakes, Governments are hard-pressed to mobilize funds to divert to fight this new pandemic.

When we superimpose the more-often-than-not public finance deficits on the increasing debt burden of States, we begin to see a picture of almost no residual monies to protect the public from the virus.

It would seem that one of the greatest lessons to be learnt from this pandemic is the vulnerability of small states to cataclysmic activities emanating from elsewhere, even 180 degrees across the globe. This is something the region must become used to, and to be creative in designing barriers and mitigating strategies to deal with them.

To begin with, THERE HAS TO BE a mechanism in place for continuous consultation between the Governments and the private sector (or civil society in some instances) to address threats which may become reality for the states. And these consultations must not be restricted to participants who are known "amici imperium," as is so often the case in our region. By giving an many community, business and political leaders a stake in the wellbeing of our societies, we tap into more calvaria and with this comes more opportunities to find solutions and build partnership to pursue other options.


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