Letters & Opinion

We Adapt or We Perish

By Thomas Rodney

The world has changed. That’s a fact. Sitting behind closed doors and closed borders isn’t going to make it return to the way it was before. We are all worried, but living in fear isn’t going to make the situation better. Doing nothing isn’t an option; it simply means a slower death.

At some point people and their leaders must come to terms with the fact that short of a vaccine being found, we need to learn to live and work with the coronavirus. Of course it’s not the ideal situation, but we don’t live in a fairy tale, even if life has taken on the plot of a James Patterson novel recently.

Our current reality demands that we adapt or we perish.

For the travel and hospitality sector – on which many Caribbean countries are heavily dependent – the situation is even more dynamic.

To put the matter into context, Travel and Tourism generates around US$7.6 trillion or 10.2% of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually. It provides employment for 1 in every 10 persons, and accounts for 6.6% of total global exports and almost 30% of global service exports. In other words, a failure of this sector will result in a systemic and catastrophic failure of economies reliant on tourism, a failure of such magnitude that all of us will be impacted.

This is the truth that many countries in the Caribbean have to come to terms with. In Saint Lucia for instance the contribution of tourism of that island’s GDP is 65%, in Antigua its 60%, in Grenada its 58%, in Barbados its 40% and in Jamaica its 34%. What this means is that until and unless a way is found to restart this sector, then there will be severe economic fallout.

I don’t think many of us appreciate just how bad this can be. Let me try to explain. A country is considered to be in economic depression and facing a recession when there is a decline in real GDP of around 10%. We are talking about a collapse in GDP of over 50%. Can you even begin to imagine what that will mean in terms of unemployment? People will plummet into debt, families will run the risk of losing their assets, savings will be depleted and massive inflation will ensure that what little there is to buy will not be affordable.

That is the potential reality we are facing in Saint Lucia and many islands unless we find a way to kick start the sector. Governments are trying to do their parts and faced with a very difficult situation, are trying to reopen borders and manage the influx of tourists. They have no choice.

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and talk about ongoing shutdowns and closed off borders, but it’s in only those who can afford to do so are singing that song. For the typical worker his bills are becoming due; mortgages and rents, car loans, power and water bills and food bills. NIC won’t be able to pay our bills forever, and many of the persons who are calling for ongoing lockdowns – for their own sakes – are not going to dip in their pockets to feed you or your family either. It can be an impossible situation, but that does not mean we lie down and die.

We need to stop the fearmongering – we need to speak of hope.

We need to stop the finger pointing – we need to be united.

I know that the majority of right thinking people understand the situation very well, however there are some who continue to live in a fantasy world that says we can all do nothing and continue to live – like I said earlier, all it means is a slower, more painful death.

I am encouraged and proud to see a number of our hospitality workers going back out to work and paving the way for the opening of the sector. They should be commended and encouraged, not criticized and vilified. They are the ones who are leading the fight for economic recovery, and their sacrifice and success today is what will ensure that you have a stable and brighter tomorrow in which your children can live and thrive.

Shame on those who want to criticize and shun these persons.

Shame on the friends and family members who do not support these pioneers.

I know the situation in the US is disquieting, but reopening is not an impossible task, and I was very encouraged when I saw the success Antigua has been having since it reopened its borders over a month and a half ago. The Minister of Health in that island has reported since the opening of borders on June 1st 2020, more than 4,000 visitors had passed through the VC Bird International airport and of that number, only 20 persons arriving from US carriers have tested positive. That means only 0.5% of all visitors were positive. Those are incredibly encouraging odds because you will never have a perfect situation.

It shows that with the proper plan, protocols and management of the situation we can move ahead.

We have no choice. We adapt or we perish. That is all there is to it.

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