When former president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, made recovery of the economy his priority in 2020, he quickly came to grips with the fact economic considerations alone will not resuscitate an ailing economy, particularly when it is being battered by a public health catastrophe.
Trump was criticized by some because he acted on his very basic business instincts. He felt the economy, and corporate America, whom he lavished with tax cuts and incentives, could collapse around him, if he did not seek to return economic activity to normal. COVID-19 be damned.
This, even as infections mushroomed and deaths skyrocketed.
His COVID-19 Task Force, which included some of that country’s most revered scientists, kept urging him to reprioritise his focus from the economy to the pandemic, as his economic and business goals could not be achieved without comprehensively addressing the coronavirus.
Ignoring the elephant in the room certainly did not make it go away.
The much-maligned American politician faced a conundrum. He had an ailing economy that once produced historic positives under his watch, such as full employment, a roaring stock market and corporate earnings that made chief executive officers smile. A presidential election was imminent, and then there was the ultimate spoiler – COVID-19.
We all know how that story ended. The election was lost, according to everyone but Trump, and sadly, America buried more than 500 000 of its citizens who succumbed to the viral illness.
Anthony Fauci, the world-famous physician, scientist, immunologist and now chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, had been consistent in his advice. The disease will cripple all efforts to return the country to normalcy, unless it is managed and brought under control.
However, the politician’s position was “open up” the economy “we have to learn to live with COVID-19”.
These sentiments may appear familiar to readers because the political and business leadership in our country are now at the familiar crossroads, that we have witnessed on our television screens from various American corporate centres.
Our business community, both large and small businesses alike, are asking for relief from the restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
We see the demands as short-sighted, but we understand the pressures business owners are under.
Dr Lynette Holder, Executive Director of the Small Business Association (SBA) and a Government Senator put it quite dramatically.
“With most small businesses still trying to recover from the deleterious impact of the first national lockdown caused by COVID-19, there is no doubt in my mind that the effects of the second lockdown have felt like a kick to the head while already down, for the small business sector,” she said in a just-released SBA publication.
Her counterpart in the Private Sector Association, Mr Edward Clarke, has warned the Mottley Administration that the local private sector was barely surviving and that “we have to find a way to learn to live with COVID”.
Mrs. Trisha Tannis, the president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there could be no guarantees that additional job losses would not be on the cards.
And so, Prime Minister Mottley must certainly be feeling the pressure from the business community to temper some of the administration’s COVID-19 policy responses, for the sake of the economy.
The emergence of several COVID-19 vaccines and the recent generous gift of 100 000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from the Government of India to Barbados, has been a game changer for our Government in its COVID-response strategy.
But will it be enough to change the depressing trajectory of infections and deaths on the island? The disclosure yesterday of three deaths in just 24 hours, is a staggering reminder that we are not over the worst of this crisis.
Clusters are now occurring in households. Newly appointed Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenneth George delivered the sobering news that in one family, there were 16 infected members. This cannot be an acceptable situation on the day the economy is reopened, albeit partially.
For the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), it must be a case of déjà vu. Not one to look back and say we told you so, BAMP’s president Dr Lynda Williams must be wondering when will science be allowed to take precedence over commerce.
It is more than instructive the recent comments of Dr Williams regarding the second shutdown.
“How well are you doing with contact tracing? How well is your lab testing going and can you scale up that lab testing? How well are you doing in terms of bed capacity for your ICU [Intensive Care Unit] cases? What is your human resource situation? How stretched is your ability in the country to manage the other types of diseases apart from COVID-19?” she queried.
By her own admission Prime Minister Mottley said COVID-19 infections remained a major worry.
“The numbers are still too high. We are reopening slowly because we want to manage the situation. We want to slowly climb back to normal, build back better and stick to the health protocols,” the Prime Minister said in her address to the nation on Thursday.
The balancing act for the Prime Minister is not going to be easy. She is on the verge of her third year in office. And while a general election may be the remotest thing on her mind right now, she is a politician and politicians can only truly perform and influence decisions when they are in office.
The crown is weighty, Prime Minister. Decisions made now could have implications for years to come.