Playing the role of Caribbean Coronavirus Cassandra in the past couple of weeks has been less about a backslide into more negative-thinking periods of my past, and more about a sustained effort to join up my thinking as it relates to a world that changes faster than the dappled light in the avocado tree outside the kitchen door of my ‘home office’. Circumspection has become a way of life this year, because knee-jerk reaction just doesn’t cut it any more.
Neither does consulting Nostradamus for prophecies that loosely link up with the truly stomach-churning global dystopian reality we’re navigating in the second six months of this year of two halves. Projecting, not prophesising; extrapolating, not excoriating; this doom-monger was commercially trained by the best in the Caribbean, expected to drill down numbers, interpret trends, quickstep past economic crises and maximise profits with every single professional decision.
So my gut instinct that Saint Lucia should not rush to open our borders to its biggest source market has constantly been tempered by the knowledge that if we’re closed, we’re economically screwed. Suggesting that we reciprocate travel only with countries with a better R-rate than our own has been at the core of not making this a ‘personal matter’, reflecting my openly communicated fear that the exploding numbers will not match up to the PR promises.
So far, the US has recorded more than 3.4 million cases of the virus and nearly 140,000 deaths.
According to the BBC: ‘The University of Washington predicts the death toll could hit nearly 210,000 by early November – though it says this could be reduced to about 160,000 if 95% of Americans wear masks in public
There’s also an overstretching confidence in a combination of the island’s state of emergency laws and responsible goodwill of early visitors to control a species-wide propensity for humans to take the piss whenever possible.
Saint Lucia has seen the effects of our own culture divide in the Covid-19 pandemic, with sections of the population howling like banshees at every mask slip by an official in a Facebook photo. Harsh things have been said about young people who didn’t care, poor people who didn’t know, and destitute people who in reality couldn’t give a thraneen whether they live or die at this point.
While upper echelons of our tiny society groaned about the alcohol ban and secured black market stocks by the case behind the walls of their gated communities, they shamed the Looshan mentality for breaking curfew, illicit partying, disrespecting the police and ‘business as usual’ behaviour. Turns out there are selfish assholes in every country, who can be whipped into all sorts of lockdown-busting frenzy as soon as the novelty of Netflix has worn off. Not that there hasn’t been the constant presence of generosity, empathy and practical support from citizens, non-profits and charitable organisations, in the form of feeding programmes, basic food hampers and the like.
But that was early o’clock, when the country was completely shut down, and some had salaries coming, a few dollars saved or family members to support them financially. Four months later, desperation is setting in and unreported by the pathetic bastion of PR that purports to be Saint Lucian media, our island is being raked by increasing petty crime, domestic violence and turf war casualties. Another wave in the crime tsunami that has swept our nation for the past twenty years. Does anyone doubt it’s about to get worse?
All of which underpins my point: Without tourism, we are broke and we are screwed.
But how much more screwed will we be if Covid-19 finally gets a foothold on our island, or any of our Caribbean neighbours? After all these months of public effort, however imperfect; after all these dollars lost to businesses and employees, families and friends; after everything we’ve praised the Saint Lucia government for achieving. What if all our regulations aren’t enough to police visiting foreign nationals who have a problem even believing there IS a pandemic? Will reopening in the 2020 ‘off season’ put us at risk of losing 2021?
It’s only mid-July and the arrival of the first set of tourists from Miami has not turned out as well as it should have. Meanwhile every 24-hour news cycle is more terrifying than the last, with hot spots surrounding our other source airports, Atlanta and Dallas. Perhaps New York will offer a less risky airlift soon, and our trusty Torontonians will hopefully return in numbers, but for now, it’s starting to feel like that scene in Jaws where the mayor insists on keeping the beaches open, despite purple-faced pleading from the scientist who knows his stuff.
We all know what happened next? [Duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh, she sings quietly.]
Some of our resorts have scheduled reopening for October and November, ahead of projected increased demand in December. I like that scenario, which gives our American neighbours time to pull their collective masks up and get on with lassoing their ever-growing Covid curve.
If we rush to judgment on opening up, we may face a second disaster later in the year by having a repeat of lock down when other, safer, markets are travelling again. By observing the daily figures [which have in the last 24 hours been hijacked from the CDC by the White House for seemingly nefarious purposes] and keeping an open mind to closing back down sooner rather than later, we have a chance to safeguard our Saint Lucia product from an even longer, more devastating situation that will extend into the potential recovery season of 2021.
As we’ve always said, when America coughs, the Caribbean catches coronavirus.