When Caribbean Community leaders meet virtually for their main annual summit early next month, much of their discussion time would likely be devoted to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, its debilitating pressures on economies and the continued struggle to acquire enough vaccines to achieve herd immunity among related issues.
The two-day meeting from July 5 is being planned just as the Group of Seven of the world’s wealthiest nations announced plans this week to make up to one billion doses of vaccines to Third World countries, many of which are struggling to acquire enough to vaccinate citizens and build herd resilience.
Haiti, Trinidad, Suriname and Jamaica are among regional countries which have struggled to acquire enough doses for mass vaccination exercises. In Trinidad, an under-pressure Prime Minister Keith Rowley was Sunday forced to apologize for an embarrassing episode last week when thousands of persons were turned away from immunization centers because there was not enough doses to go around. Some had lined up as early as daybreak only to be told stocks had run out.
Several highly desperate regional leaders, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua among them, had formally reached out to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden asking them directly for donations or to be allowed to purchase large enough doses to immunize their populations and to ensure some are available for visitors. Officials say the region will welcome the announcement from the G-7 nations.
This is as the lifeline tourism sector remains under severe pressure as COVID infections in several countries, including St. Kitts, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and Haiti, have spiked, pushing authorities to tighten up on social activities, enforcing lockdowns and night time curfews among other issues.
Rowley was quoted by the Trinidad Express newspaper as saying that he was the one to blame for last week’s foul up as the government had put out a mass appeal to the public to line up for jabs. In the end, too many locals showed up for too few vaccines.
“That experiment of trying to do too much with too little could only have failed and it has failed, and we acknowledge that and I, as prime minister, unreservedly apologize to those who thought to work within that program and did in fact experience what was the bad day of Wednesday. I take responsibility for that because it is a government decision. I am head of the government.”
Air travel to some countries like Trinidad and Suriname have been severely restricted. Lockdowns in tourist providing countries like Canada and the United Kingdom have meant that carriers like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada have drastically cut operations to the region, starving the sector of finance.
And since last year, cruise ships have parked or home berthed most of their empty vessels in the region as fears of COVID spikes on vessels have traumatized players.
Just last week, efforts to restart regular cruise tours suffered a blow when two passengers on Royal Caribbean Celebrity Millennium to the region tested positive for the virus even after tendering negative certificates. It is unclear what new protocols would be put in place as most of the major liners have been preparing for a July resumption of service. Their ships have been largely idle for more than a year.
As the leaders prepare to meet and as PM Rowley hands over the chair to PM Browne of Antigua for the remainder of this year, Suriname appears to be in the throes of a battle to contain the spread.
A total of 113 people have died in the first 14 days of June, giving the country a grand total of just over 400. The country is in a full lockdown, with borders to all its neighbors shut down.