So much has happened and continues to happen on the Caribbean front and further afield as we live through the life altering COVID-19 pandemic. It is perhaps the most telling way of how our lives have gotten more interconnected since with social media we no longer have to wait on what were traditional sites to gather information and then disseminate it to us.
I believe we felt and continue to feel the urgency of the COVID-19 outbreak because it happened for all of us in real time. Via our social media feeds, we looked into the market which was touted as the epicenter of this outbreak simultaneously while the Chinese officials toured it.
Even as we all strengthen our regimes of cleanliness to manage the spread of the Coronavirus, it is important to remember that the Coronavirus is not the first threat of its kind that we have surpassed as a global community.
When the HIV virus peaked around the 1980s, it posed a serious challenge for a number of years until there were manageable ways to treat the disease. We continue to try to adjust sexual habits and promote condom use and other safe measures. Although we have not been 100 per cent successful on the behavioural change side, science has done a substantial part to minimize the threat of illness and death associated with the condition, which is now seen as ‘simply’ a chronic illness.
Other examples of serious flare-ups of deadly viruses include the SARS outbreak in 2002 – which is also thought to be caused by a strain of Coronavirus and the Saudi Arabian flu in 2012, to name but two. All these pandemics have economic consequences. The prediction is that anything that reaches pandemic status can affect the global economy by as much as between $800 billion to $2 trillion dollars in losses.
How we turn the world around after that will not be an easy feat. I do believe, however, that money always fixes money and big business will always come out on top, even at the expense of the exploitation of fear and vulnerability. All the lessons from this latest pandemic also need not be negative ones.
The Commonwealth Caribbean has had a number of warnings that we have to think more clearly and collaboratively about certain issues. One is food security. Another reason I believe the breakout of this pandemic hit us so frontally was because it directly affected the supply chain of so much that we depend on to live generally, but our food supplies specifically.
We have had discussions about the detriment of our high food import bill and there has been some link between that and our dependence on others for our food supply – what we have been less adept at doing is turning that into an actionable set of steps that have resulted in a reversal of the situation.
This virus leaves a wide open space for us to really access our relationships with closer suppliers of goods. Guyana, Suriname and Haiti all have rice, fruits and meats in abundance and at distances that are safer and easier to manipulate in times of crisis. It is also an opportunity for our pharmaceutical industries to ensure that they can offer solutions for disinfecting and basic medical supplies on island in the event their supply chains are significantly affected.
The third lesson I think that comes out of this pandemic is how we can become better at treating to the needs of the most vulnerable among us. As people rushed to purchase every last drop of Lysol on the island in whatever form or fashion, did it dawn on anyone that there are people who cannot afford cleanliness?
There were no distribution sites set up for the elderly or welfare recipients. In true capitalist style, we consumed based on our means but did not have a contingency to ensure that the supplies spread to people who may be most vulnerable. I think another significant blunder was the use of St. Lucy as Isolation Centre points.
St. Lucy, as a community, has been made vulnerable by the virtue of its regularly interrupted potable water supply. Why would we further psychologically burden residents with the thought of Isolation Centres? In global events such as these it is not just about managing realities but also fears and perceptions. We never seem to do enough as a nation to pay attention to mental wellness as a serious and priceless commodity.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.