A Potential Legacy Of Covid-19 For The Caribbean (Part 1) by Christian Paul


“Don’t worry ’bout a thing, cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.”
~Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley

In truth, “legacy” refers to leaving behind and therefore it may seem too soon to speak about the legacy of this disease while it rages on without significant signs of slowing down globally. Indeed, it may well be that this “haunting malady” is still building to a regrettable but seemingly inevitable crescendo in the region, as we grapple to prepare for what we collectively hope will not be as bad as predicted. If the general unwillingness for people to remain home in keeping with the pleadings of authorities in the region is anything to go by, it may very well be worse and longer mandatory curfews with full country shutdowns may have to be deployed. As I write, Grenada has just announced the most stringent shutdown protocols in the region and I am sure that more similar ones will be announced in the region. Coupled with that, differing levels of preparedness; insufficient equipment, testing apparatus, quarantine and isolation centers to adequately deal with this burgeoning behemoth without any point of context (except perhaps the aids epidemic in the early 80s, which was very different) is creating fear and panic among Caribbean people and unprecedented challenges for the region’s governments. This lack of resources by countries most of which were already in various recovery stages after natural disasters and economic tsunamis, is fueling this inadequate level of preparedness and also because this disease is very different in its behavior; longer incubation period and ability to spread like wildfire in societies which are socially active; The Caribbean is a prime example, where we are very “touchy feely”, we hug often, we laugh, cry and lime together, as this is our national pastime.

But getting back to the “legacy” and the quote above from “Brother Bob”. Notwithstanding these are the early days, a trend is already starting to emerge and despite all the doom and gloom (some of it is very real and has dire consequences for some) it is encouraging and offers a glimpse of what life in the region could be afterward. Everything can indeed be alright.The first observation I have is that Covid19 is having a paradoxical impact on the region. On the one hand it is taking us back to a time of our grandparents in two main respects; the notion of the type of military oversight of and attention to personal hygiene. “Have you washed your hands?” Have you washed them properly?” “Did you use soap as well”? These were not uncommon refrains after coming in from playing in the yard, before meals and naturally before and after restroom visits. Some of these habits have changed over the years based on my observation. The other aspect is that the potential for borders to be shut down is “forcing” people to start looking again at backyard gardens for planting herbs and vegetables in the urgent way that they haven’t in the recent past.

Nationally, some governments are hurriedly earmarking large tracts of land for short term crops. Frankly, these are initiatives which we should have been looking at for a long time, given the growing size of the region’s food import bill.
The paradox is that while this disease is forcing us to look to traditional practices, it is launching us in a quantum way into future thinking practices at a rate that overtakes our plans for modernization. Online shopping for groceries, full service delivery for businesses via online portals, working from home initiatives across full companies especially those in the service industries, utilising state of the art technology. Meetings are widely held by video conferencing with staff and customers alike and while meetings with customers are perhaps better in person at their premises, they are often not always necessary. Curbside pick up and home deliveries even for fine dining restaurants; individuals who have been unemployed are now using their cars to facilitate these home deliveries. These are all at the heart of the digital strategy planned out over longer periods but now advancing at the enhanced pace necessary to provide services to members of the public who more and more are expected to be confined to their homes and for the safety of staff and customers. Schools and teachers are delivering lessons on using technology including video. The irony of all of this is that the technology was always there and though not available as extensively as is being pursued now, with a little effort we could have been there already. We always had the ability to grow and consume more local food was but our palate and mentality for things produced extra regionally, put us in the position we are in. In short, we the people and governments of the region lacked the collective will. But sometimes when the pulling strategy doesn’t work, the pushing strategy does and the universe is definitely pushing. Did I mention in all of that less traffic, less gas, less use of fossil fuel? We simply didn’t do the things that we could have done before to prepare us for where we are today. According to the Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”!!

In Barbados, there are reports of persons at supermarkets amid the panic buying, actively sharing; the last bag of lemons when there were none left or a customer opening a 6 pack of salted biscuits and sharing 3 packs with another, refusing to accept payment. Covid19 is really proving to be the great equalizer without respect for race, nationality, creed or class, forcing us indoors to spend time with families, gardening, yes working from home but in a way that allows us to achieving in a better way that elusive work/life balance that is often spoken about, like perfection; always striving but never attained. There is a sense of community spirit pervading the region, collaboration at national level between countries as medical professionals share strategies across national boundaries and individuals and companies provide food for them as they work on the front lines.

Yes this disease is causing challenges on a number of levels, as jobs are lost (in some cases hopefully temporarily) in the face of slowing revenues across some businesses but we are learning quickly new ways to work and live. National budgets are being stretched but countries will be forced to look at home grown (pun intended) solutions to addressing the large food import bill. We need to adjust our palate and our mentality for local/regional and ironically more healthy food options than food out of cans and those which are heavily processed. New services are springing up all around and advertised via online platforms; This last weekend we purchased all our supermarket items on line and supported a co-operative of local farmers who deliver weekly vegetable boxes on order. We may never need to spend 2 hours a week at a supermarket in future but instead spend it at home doing something around the house that we have been putting off, like our back yard gardens, or just slowing down a bit.

This is by no means over and I am not minimizing the severe challenges being experienced by individuals and families which in some cases are heart wrenching and may indeed stretch on. Despite that these are early days and notwithstanding the challenges, part of the “legacy” of Covid19 could be a very positive one for the region. I believe that we do have a choice in this legacy and the kind of people we emerge into. This great equalizer is giving each and everyone of us an opportunity that we may never have again on this scale. It’s up to us!!

I will expand on the Legacy going forward, as indeed there are many parts that could and should be examined but in the meantime, lets remain calm, be positive, look for opportunities to learn something new and innovate, stay at home and wash our hands “cause every little thing’s gonna be alright”.

Plis ta, nous kai weh.


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