Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday, on Monday, called on the government to elaborate on its economic package in response to the fiscal fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday said that the government should have a financial package and make it known to people “so that they would be more willing to make the changes that will affect their businesses”.
He said that the business community needs to know “that they are not doing this on their own, we are all in this together, everybody will share a little bit of the pain and that they will be supported. They’ll have income support for their businesses for employees down the road,” he said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that St. Vincent and the Grenadines could be significantly impacted by the pandemic, even as only one case has been confirmed in the country.
Some 75% of cruise lines have cancelled their remaining calls to the destination this season, countries across the region have closed their borders, and some US states have suspended travel, even as some airlines have also announced their intention to suspend their services and cancel flights.
Additionally, the virus is significantly impacting North America, Europe and the United Kingdom, the main source market for visitors to SVG.
Friday said that Kingstown does not have to deal with on its own the economic fallout, adding that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have already said that they will provide assistance to countries which are unable to manage.
The opposition leader noted the historic nature of the pandemic, which has claimed over 17,000 lives and infected 398,000 people worldwide, 104,000 of whom have recovered.
“It’s something that you and I have never experienced in our lifetime; nobody has. And at the rate at which it spreads now, I think this is unprecedented because, of course, we have a larger world population now, we have better health care systems.
“So hopefully, the effect may not be as catastrophic as it was with the influenza pandemic back in 1918 when an estimated 50 million people died.”
He, however, said that in any event, the global modelling shows that the global impact is a “catastrophe by any measure.
“Many, many people have lost their lives and will continue to do so. This notion that it’s 2% of the people who get seriously ill and die, if you have a population of 100 million, it two million people…” he said.
The opposition leader said he knows that people are very concerned and some are very fearful.
“There’s no need for us to panic because panic never helps a situation. We need to be responsible. We need to know; the government needs to come and say to us: this is what the worst-case scenario will be; this is how we’re going to respond; this is how we have things in place.”
He noted that the pandemic has spread to 180 countries, making travel risky. “We are aware you have individual countries, like in Wuhan in China, they shut down there, then Italy they shut down… Imagine two weeks ago, you’re looking at it and thinking that seems unimaginable. It’s happening all over Europe, the most sophisticated parts of our planet with the highest healthcare systems…”
He said that healthcare providers have to, essentially, decide which individuals they are going to try to save.
“So essentially, others are being condemned to a fate …”
He said it is important for SVG t to know what is happening elsewhere to see the impact on the economy and the healthcare system.
“And we worry about the economic impact of course, but there will be measures to adjust and we will recover but first life and health comes first. Nothing changes your priority more than becoming seriously ill,” Friday said.
“So, I am reassuring our people that we are all in this together, that we will overcome it. What you want to do is to make sure we do the least damage possible. And by that I mean to health and life and then of course also to the economic and social disruption that has been caused, but it will be and must be disruptive because this is unprecedented, this is deadly, this is something that the entire world is having difficulty with — it is impossible to cope with.
“We should stay ahead of the curve, prevent it from spreading here. That’s our only hope. That is our only hope because we do not have the facilities to respond to any significant outbreak in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Friday said.