COVID-19 has been a demon and a killer. It has led to the collapse of major businesses and the decimation of an untold number of small enterprises in Barbados and the region. But out of the novel coronavirus has emerged some positives.
We mourn the seven Barbadians who have died here and others who have perished across the diaspora as a result of the pandemic. And, as much as we frown on the idea of juxtaposing the coronavirus with anything optimistic, we must admit to a few brighter sides of this human and economic calamity.
The highly contagious disease has forced us to shutter our homes and hunker down almost as if a Category 5 hurricane were racing from across the Atlantic. Businesses and householders have discovered, to our collective amazement, that in some instances we can co-exist fairly comfortably in a virtual environment.
Nature has happily smiled that millions of people around the world have stopped even for a few weeks their incessant pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Planes have allowed the clouds to breath and wildlife that once cowered from humankind trampling all over their domain, have had a momentary respite to run free.
In China, carbon emissions fell 25 per cent at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home. Coal use fell by 40 per cent there at six of the largest power plants. And the proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4 per cent.
In Barbados, we have pulled out our smart devices and communicated with our employers, our teachers, state agencies and private sector businesses, all from our bedrooms or living rooms. We have moved money from our bank accounts to pay utility bills and buy groceries. We have also ordered meals online, reducing human-to-human spread of COVID-19.
Electronic transactions have increased and service providers have had to make meaningful investments in this critical infrastructure, even during this period of crisis.
Though it could be argued that our university, community colleges and providers of tertiary education should have had a head start in the provision of online education, some of them have been caught flatfooted, and embarrassingly so. The University of the West Indies at Cave Hill is currently conducting its final examinations process for this academic year in a totally virtual environment.
Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles has admitted the shift to e-learning was a “total emergency response”. But he concedes that the UWI will have to build out on what COVID-19 has dropped at the institution’s doorstep. He says it can and will deliver on-line education in a more efficient and effective way.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Smart Technology Senator Kay McConney has been a fervent advocate for greater use of technology in our development process. We have made some incremental steps by way of electronic filing of income taxes, applications for Police Certificates of Character, and even the publication of the Government’s Official Gazette.
Now we say it is time for Barbados to go big or go home. COVID-19 has brought its challenge but it is time to grab all the opportunities it has fortuitously left us, to make lemonade from the bitter, sour limes that a coronavirus has bequeathed us.
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