On Tuesday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) raised its forecast for global economic growth upward by more than one percentage point.
According to the OECD, activity in many sectors has picked up and partially adapted to pandemic restrictions.
Importantly, it noted that vaccine rollout, although uneven, is gaining momentum and government stimulus, particularly in the United States, is likely to provide a major boost to economic activity.
But prospects for sustainable growth vary widely between countries and sectors. Faster and more effective vaccination deployment across the world the report said is critical.
Noting that the global vaccine rollout remains uneven, with restrictions remaining in some countries and sectors, it said the outlook for growth would improve (upside scenario) if the production and distribution of doses accelerates, is better co-ordinated around the world and gets ahead of virus mutations.
“This would allow containment measures to be relaxed more rapidly and global output to approach pre-pandemic projections for activity. But consumer spending and business confidence would be hit (downside scenario) if vaccination programmes are not fast enough to cut infection rates or if new variants become more widespread and require changes to current vaccines.”
It is now common knowledge that the pandemic has cost trillions of dollars to the world economy and for T&T it has meant billions in lost revenue and additional expenditure.
At a time when the T&T economy was already fragile the pandemic has hit us where it hurts most, in our pockets.
It is almost a year now since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in T&T and a year since there has been significant lock down of the country. Its borders have remained closed, thousands have lost their jobs, hundreds of businesses have closed down, thousands of lives either disrupted or ruined. Even Carnival has for the first time been cancelled and not postponed.
The government has boasted to anyone who would listen that it has done a great job in keeping the population safe from the uncontrolled spread of the deadly virus.
The country’s death toll, being relatively small compared to the risks that we faced, and I am sure there are people who will look at what is happening to our Caricom brothers and sisters in Jamaica and breathe a sigh of relief that a similar faith has not befallen us as a country.
The truth is that as an economy highly dependent on tourism and services it would have been all but impossible for the other Caricom members, with the exception of Guyana and Suriname, to close their borders the way T&T did.
In the last year the government has also kept most of its employees at work, choosing not to send home anyone and borrowing money to pay salaries while heavily drawing down on the country’s savings to keep us afloat.
I have already written extensively on the government’s general economic policy and how it has endangered the economy and we are now at a point where lockdown or no lockdown we are in deep trouble.
The successful roll-out of vaccines globally is likely to positively impact T&T’s economy. Already the increased demand for petroleum products, along with reduced production from the Saudis has led to improved global prices for crude oil. This increase in oil prices will add some revenue to the government coffers.
Should vaccines be rolled out successfully it is likely to allow Caribbean islands to return to some normalcy and with that pent up demand for global travel and holidays, one reasonably expects the Caribbean islands will be major beneficiaries for tourists eager to go on holiday. This will have a positive impact on T&T’s export of manufactured goods, particularly in the food and beverage sectors
The United Kingdom has perhaps the world’s most successful vaccination roll out thus far and the British government has clearly set out a course to emerge from lock-down and return to normal lives.
The United States has also made progress under the Joe Biden administration and the CDC has this week issued new guidelines to its vaccinated population on how they may begin that return to normalcy.
In the case of T&T we have no such good fortune. Instead we have the embarrassing situation where one of the Caribbean’s richest countries is last per capita in its vaccination of its population with a Health Minister who appears to be fumbling in the dark about vaccines.
From the embarrassment of claiming the 2000 doses was a gift from India and not Barbados to his come-down that two months later than promised we are only getting enough doses to inoculate 15,000 members of the population, it has not been Terrence Deyalsingh’s finest hour.
For a man who is not shy about boasting constantly, almost with every sentence he utters, about the great job he has done, led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, it is now almost painful to see clearly that the rollout is at best stuttering if not stalled.
He is yet to articulate a real plan that has dates and amounts of vaccine to be received and the number does, nor can he credibly tell us when we can expect to reach heard immunity.
Deyalsingh, and by extension the government, still has not clearly explained the débâcle with the Indian government nor how the public and private sectors can work to get this done?
No one denies that all countries are facing vaccine challenges but what is almost frightening is how we have been exposed by other Caricom countries that don’t even have an embassy in India and yet can receive vaccine and begin the moves to reopen their economy, while we seem to have been caught off guard by the so called Indian gift or vaccine diplomacy.
Is it that we were hoping for free vaccines from China or a major power? It is that we were trying to play cheap hoping to beg for free vaccines and only pay for 33 per cent of the population in the Covax facility?
These may seem absurd questions but they have to be asked based on where we find ourselves.
Surely the problem in getting the vaccine cannot be one of money or resources? If ever there was a time when the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund can be used, it’s for vaccine purchase.
In September last year Deyalsingh told the country; “What does that mean for T&T, 20 percent of our population is 280,000. In the first chance of the vaccination drive, we will be getting vaccines to vaccinate 280,000 citizens of T&T.
“After that, in the second wave of the vaccination drive, Cabinet has signed on with Covax to purchase vaccines for 33 per cent of the population. 33 per cent is 462,000 so after we get out first 280,000 we will then get another 182,000 to vaccinate 33 per cent of the population. That is how the COVAX facility works.”
It is now clear this will not come to past. In the meantime the country’s economy and citizens remain under limited lockdown.
Restaurants still cannot serve alcohol, a measure that makes no sense, taxi drivers are still at a reduced number of passengers, bars and entertainment remain hurt by government measures and T&T remains the laughing stock of the region.
Even at this stage it is increasing clear we will not get to heard immunity by the end of the year and, in that case, we are likely to go another year without Carnival come 2022. There will be more psychological and economic pain to bear.
The government talks about saving lives, what about people’s livelihoods.
We cannot all work at CEPEP.