EDITORIAL: The push to reopen
THE stakes could not be higher.
Western states continue to push to start a gradual process of reopening aspects of their economy, with many of the countries within this region heavily dependent on tourism and trade-related activities.
For Barbados, that is the major push and pull which is developing. The need to reopen the economy of this small island developing state, which is heavily dependent on tourism-related income and consumer spending, is alluring and highly necessary but in the face of COVID-19, it becomes a tricky prospect.
This island’s economy is not doing well. Starved of tourism dollars, it is highly dependent on alternative sources of income to make up the shortfall which was clearly observed in the first quarter of 2020, as tourism numbers declined dramatically due to the rapid and deadly rise of the COVID-19 virus.
As that disease spread quickly across the world, the traditional source markets for tourists have been dramatically impacted. Countries have closed borders and travelers have been rightfully pre-occupied with their own survival and that of their families.
It has made countries such as Barbados have to seriously look at its economic models. As a country which has been successful encouraging foreign direct investment, a well-managed and vibrant economy has been attractive to many investors.
In our history, many globally recognized hotel chains have shown that love and affection for this island’s unique way of life and the benefits of competitive taxation regimes, a warm and inviting populace and the pristine beaches, plus relatively low crime rates – over time.
This reality is not the same for most Barbadians. Many live one monthly payment to another. Many live on credit cards and exist through paying the minimum balance. It is a dangerous illusion and the prolonged shutdown has real economic pitfalls for the majority of families across the island.
It is perhaps this series of events that any decision to reopen has to be considered. Barbadians, overwhelmingly, have adhered to the regulations which have been imposed by Government to protect the population from the impacts of COVID-19. Many have stayed home, utilized online purchases of foodstuff, paid bills online, yet are going ‘stir-crazy’, not from the fact of staying indoors while the island navigates this threat, but faced with economic uncertainty, the impacts of this period will be felt for months to come.
What will happen to the Barbadian economy if this storm of economic challenges continues for much longer? With tourism receipts virtually non-existent, this island still has to earn its keep.
Government has already boosted its revenues through a variety of taxation increases and in a time when thousands are out of work, especially in areas such as tourism, this source of income will continue to fall, the longer tourism is off-line.
So as other non-essential businesses get the notice to reopen, we have to balance the push to reopen with the ongoing public health emergency. We enter Phase 3 of this process where more businesses, which encourage increased or closer contact between customers and those who provide the services, will indicate how the disease has spread and if public health measures to date have been able to control the spread of the virus. It is a delicate balance.