EDITORIAL - The impact of Covid-19
The spread of the coronavirus across the world has resulted in a great deal of change to the way we interact with each other and how we do business. Since the virus was first reported, its rapid spread has caused countries to close their borders and companies and economies to grind to a halt.
In the initial months, we here in the Caribbean watched from afar – hoping, wishing and praying that virus would not get here. That was wishful thinking really, as it was spreading like wildfire and slowly we came to the realisation that it was not a question of if, but when it would arrive.
Across the world we face uncertain times. Yesterday afternoon in excess of 461 000 cases had been recorded in 196 countries and territories around the world. It is crippling economies, disrupting the supply of good and services and putting many people on the breadline. This reality makes it clear that we have to embrace the change that the virus has brought, or be left behind.
Just to show how fast things have changed, it has been only nine days since the first two cases were announced here in Barbados and already many in our workforce are operating from remote locations as businesses have physically closed doors to the public, while continuing to operate in the virtual world. Our tourism industry has been hardest hit. With the airlines scrapping flights and the cruise industry suspending global sailings, our hotels are virtually empty. That indeed has a knock-on effect throughout the whole economy.
The fact is tourism is our lifeblood and has been for quite some time. It has long overtaken sugar as king, but what this situation is showing us is that we need to make sure that in the future we do not have all our eggs in one basket. We must with urgency look to see what other sectors can be advanced to help earn revenue and valuable foreign exchange, once economic activity gets going again. Such will be difficult for a country like ours where our natural resources are limited, but perhaps like Guyana, we will strike liquid gold. Hopefully this is not wishful thinking, but a real possibility given the exploration expected in our territorial waters.
In respect of tourism, the reality is that even if the situation with covid-19 improves in a few months’ time, it will take far longer than that for travel to get back to its glory days. The fact is, those who will look to come to Barbados to spend their vacations, come primarily from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada – all three, but in particular the US, have been hard hit health wise and economically by the coronavirus. Those international economies will take time to pick up and then persons must have the confidence to travel and feel safe doing so, if we are to see arrival figures anything like before.
Here in Barbados, as we seek to prevent community spread, encouraging Barbadians to practise social distancing and not gather in groups of more than 25 persons, we have seen banks, supermarkets and other retail entities seeking to play their part by limiting the numbers in their establishments. We have seen the rise of grocery shopping and delivery services and businesses and entities, including those in the public sector, encouraging persons to do business online. Even the primary and secondary schools are exploring the options to provide teaching online, as is being done by our tertiary institutions.
There has long been talk about the need for Barbados to go digital, embracing e-commerce and e-business and while some steps were being taken, perhaps this virus was just the extra push we needed to get there sooner.
So we can choose to wallow in despair or make the best of a very bad situation.