BRIDGETOWN – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders yesterday said they had agreed on a way forward in the region’s battle against the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has severely affected economies, causing death and infection to several members of their populations.
The regional leaders, who met for their Ninth Special Emergency Meeting via videoconference, received presentations from the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Jason Gordon.
CARPHA executive director Dr Joy St John told the meeting, which was attended by all leaders of the 15-member grouping, that the region had done fairly well in its response to the pandemic, which was a direct result of the early implementation of measures which helped to contain the virus. She recommended a co-ordinated approach as the Caribbean prepares for the next phase of the virus.
In its presentation, the CDB examined the economic implications for the Caribbean of the pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people globally since it was first detected in China last December and ideas for stimulating economic activity going forward.
The UWI researchers included projections for the future of the virus in the region in their presentation, while Archbishop Gordon spoke to the social impact of the COVID-19 as well as ideas to alleviate those challenges.
A statement issued following the meeting noted that the regional leaders had agreed on a collective approach to the international financial institutions (IFC) in accessing assistance to meet the financial fiscal challenges arising from the crisis.
They urged that the criterion of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita not be the sole consideration in assessing the needs of the Community and that “an understanding of each country’s vulnerability is a far better measurement to determine need especially as we face multiple challenges.
“They agreed that additional technical work would be undertaken in specific areas to be presented for their consideration at another meeting within two weeks. They would be presented after the relevant ministerial councils would have reviewed the proposals,” the statement said.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, in reporting to his Cabinet on the meeting yesterday, had stressed the agreement to move as a single body in CARICOM’s demarche to the Bretton Woods institutions.
“The single requirement of all CARICOM member states at this time is budgetary support, since revenues have plummeted, especially among the tourist-dependent states,” he told the Cabinet meeting, adding that there had been “agreement on the need to de-emphasise the “per capita GNP” criterion that would cause many small-island states to be disqualified from receiving assistance from the international financial institutions”.
The CARICOM statement said proposals on a Common Public Health policy would first be presented to the Ministers of Health and this would include proposals for joint procurement, including of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment (PPE) and sourcing of additional medical personnel. The statement said that the joint procurement would assist in addressing supply constraints being experienced.
“There would also be consideration of a proposal for a protocol on re-opening borders which all member states would adhere to at the same time when such a decision is taken,” the statement noted.
Regional governments have implemented several initiatives, including lockdown of their borders, curfews and social distancing, in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus that has killed people in some Caribbean countries notably, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda, Suriname and Guyana.
The statement said issues related to food security would be considered in the context of the CARICOM COVID-19 Agri-Food Risk Management Framework, which has been circulated to member states following a meeting of Ministers of Agriculture last month. The statement said this would address in particular the production and supply of food products.
The transportation of people and goods by air and sea inter-regionally would also come under scrutiny with particular reference to the operations of the regional air carriers which have been adversely affected by the measures adopted to contain the virus.
Proposals would also be formulated for building a robust digital architecture, including governance, to facilitate digital commerce and to assist in the fight against the virus, the statement said.
It added that the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE), which met last Wednesday, has been considering the threats to security during the course of the pandemic and that its recommendations would also come before the regional leaders at a later date.
The statement said that during their virtual meeting, the regional leaders called for the lifting of sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela on humanitarian grounds as all countries must be part of the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Heads of Government were of the view that it was regrettable that resources for the World Health Organisation (WHO) were being threatened at a time when all must join in leading the fight against the pandemic,” the statement said. (CMC)