Dear Editor,

Caribbean countries that succeed in tackling their infection rates have many different challenges, but one enemy is common: COVID-19. The 12 Caribbean countries and territories with the lowest number of active cases to zero active cases as of Oct. 14 — Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines — fit this criteria.

While many countries are reporting increased cases of COVID-19 especially in the Americas and Europe, these 12 Caribbean islands have demonstrated proven measures and have cause for great optimism. They have acted early and some have tested widely in the fight against the coronavirus disease thereby successfully controlling or preventing widespread transmission of the virus. Six of these Caribbean islands are among the 11 countries in the world with zero active COVID-19 cases.

Government, frontline leaders tested

The pandemic has truly tested the leadership and communication skills of government and frontline leaders, at times showing up their authenticity. It has placed them in a position to demonstrate effective planning, good management and compassion to see successful results amid the frustrations that many communities are feeling as the pandemic lingers with uncertainty around the globe.

Something has been done right in containing the coronavirus in each of the 12 Caribbean countries and territories with the lowest active cases. Whether it was the right time to impose restrictions and lockdowns, effective contact tracing, wide testing or other health measure response, one thing certain is that something was done right to achieve successful results.

COVID-19 is not a matter of luck. It is a matter of decisive action by governments and citizens to save lives. Good health is a necessary condition to strive for wealth. Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom of the World Health Organization recently stated, “there are no shortcuts, and no silver bullets. The answer is a comprehensive approach, using every tool in the toolbox” to deal with COVID-19.

Looking at the response measures for some of these successful islands, Bermuda and Cayman Islands have topped the Caribbean with the most testing for COVID-19 per capita. The Cayman Islands went from strict lockdown to relaxed restrictions after successfully managing their health crisis. Cayman residents are no longer restricted in their hours to shop, bank and leisure. However, there is a 500-person limit for gatherings.

The British Virgin Islands, which had seen a cluster of cases from illegal entries, is now gradually reducing curfew restrictions and will be open to visitors beginning Dec. 1. Just recently, private schools were allowed to reopen and businesses were approved to operate with certain health protocols in place.

COVID-19 challenges ahead

A great challenge will be when borders are fully open to international travel if they not already for some of these islands. Some countries are using or about to introduce high-tech solutions to contain the virus. Quarantine bracelets/wristbands are being used in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands for self-quarantining persons. Manual systems are now being transitioned to digital and contact less systems when conducting business at the British Virgin Islands’ trade and promotions department.

The dark days of lockdown and hard restrictions are still a threat. We have seen a constant shift in public health guidance and how organizations operate in the new environment. The dark truth is that no one truly knows how and when this virus spread will end.

Saved lives equate to success?

The world does not fully understand the long-term health effects for people who were infected with COVID-19. More advanced researches are been done on the disease. WHO has been advocating for countries to control transmission and save lives as a number one priority. “Find, isolate, test and care for cases, and trace and quarantine their contacts,” the director general for WHO said in a press conference.

Other regions — New Zealand for instance — have been widely credited for acting early and effectively against the disease. Likewise, these 12 Caribbean islands with the lowest active cases should also be lauded for managing the spread of the virus and saving lives. However, saving lives may arguably not be enough. Balancing health and wealth comes with high criticism as government leaders juggle between health measures and economic fallout affecting their country.

Economic fallout

Countries are not only being judged by how they control the spread of the virus but also by how they handle the economic fallout that accompanies the disease. Take the United States, which is a major international trade partner in tourism and manufacturing for many of these Caribbean islands. The world is watching how the United States is handling the pandemic and the impending general election in November. Elections can pose a great opportunity to shift the blame of the economic fallouts and loss of lives from COVID-19 while an opportunity can be missed to purely examine the pandemic for what it truly is. On the other hand, it can present an opportunity to present a case for better handling of the pandemic. The pandemic has infected over 238,000 people in the Caribbean region and caused over 4,000 deaths.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has reported in a radio interview this month that from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, cumulatively, the government collected more in revenue and grants for this year at EC$402 million — an increase of 3.4% over 2019. The figure for 2019 was EC$388 million. However, capital expenditure has gone up by 126%. Revenue had increased by 9.5% in the first quarter before the pandemic.

The economic performance for April was even or slightly down compared to 2019. For the month of May, 20 percent less revenue was collected than in May 2019; 8% less than June 2019 was collected in June of this year. July was even while the month of August saw a big rebound the interview revealed. There are zero active COVID-19 cases in St. Vincent and the Grenadines amid a general election on Nov. 5.

Financial concern in St. Lucia amid success

St. Lucia has the lowest number of confirmed cases in the Caribbean per capita. However, their financial situation is concerning. Last Sunday, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet revealed in a television broadcast that “it is no secret the government has exhausted all the efforts, all of the resources with the NIC [National Insurance Corporation] and donor agencies to provide a social stabilization program for the public and for those persons who have lost their jobs. We have no money. What we are hoping to do is to gain the strength of our economy so many persons can be re-employed.”

Belize and Trinidad on upward trend

We have seen countries go from a flattened curve to a second and third wave. A few months ago, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, were applauded for keeping cases to near zero while infections increased elsewhere in the Caribbean. The pandemic faith of any country can change swiftly due to a combination of different events.

— Mitsy Ellis-Simpson is managing director of MJS & Associates Inc., a company based in the British Virgin Islands providing research, analytics, and investigative and consultant services.