By guest columnist Thomas Christopher Famous
Today, like everyday, I woke up thinking of a number of my family members: my grandmother in St. Eustatius; my aunts and uncles in Tortola; my cousins in St. Kitts; my friends in Barbados, Cayman Islands and St. Lucia.
I did nothing, more or less, than each one of you have done.
As a people, no matter which island we may have been born in or now reside in, we have friends and family throughout the Caribbean region and the diaspora. Likewise, you too have woken up, worrying and concerned about the well-being of your family and friends, scattered around this beautiful part of the world.
Caribbean people are best known for our warmth, friendliness and genuine humanity. Without a doubt, we are probably the most social creatures on this earth. We sing with, we dance with, we argue with, we cuss out and we hug each other on a daily, some would say, hourly, basis.
COVID-19 has robbed us of the ability to physically touch and hug and kiss each other.
Well, except for our significant others.
As Caribbean people, we have always learned how to quickly adapt to any given set of circumstances, in order to not only survive but to thrive.
Over the last two months or so, we have, individually and collectively, done some or all of the following things:
- Taking in those who have lost their jobs
- Started homeschooling our children
- Commenced feeding/delivery programmes for seniors and less-fortunate persons
- Become a bit less materialistic
- Started planting home gardens
- Committed to doing more of those long lists of house painting/repairs
- More home cooking
- More book/kindle reading
On a private sector level, we have seen the following take place:
- Companies committing money and personnel to sponsoring and manning kitchens to feed the seniors and less fortunate
- Retention of staff by adapting to working from home wherever possible
- Banks giving grace periods ranging from 3-6 months for mortgage payments
- The adoption of online grocery purchasing with options for home delivery
- More and more smaller businesses offering home-delivery services
On a political level, there have had to be quick adaptations to the new landscape.
In February of this year, there were three days of meetings held in Barbados for the heads of governments for all CARICOM member states.
With most, if not all, Caribbean Islands dependent on tourism, the regional health organisation, Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), gave a presentation on protocols that would need to be activated and followed to ensure uniformity if coronavirus hit the region.
Over the last few weeks and months, every island has followed these protocols for testing, the shutting of borders, semi-curfews and full curfews.
CARPHA also spoke of the increased threat as cruise ships moved from one island to the next.
With no cruise or international air visitors, there has been a knock-on effect in the hospitality industries around the Caribbean. Regional governments have had to now implement contingency plans to ensure their people do not face increased hardships.
Drastic measures such as:
- Seeking loan facilities to assist those who have suddenly become jobless
- Having to transition many ministries to work from home
- Ceasing all government capital projects
- Closing of magistrate and court services
- Mobilisation of reserve police and military units
- House of Assembly sessions moved to larger facilities to ensure social distancing of parliamentarians
There is not one government in the region that will escape unscathed from COVID-19.
Tourism, our financial lifeblood, is on indefinite hold and many businesses that pay into government coffers are on the brink of closing for good.
Yet, through it all, the Overseas Territories, in particular, have gotten that much closer than before.
Over the last decade or so, many of our citizens, our friends and families, have migrated to the UK, to attend school or to take up residence. Many of them, for obvious reasons during these uncertain times, wish to return home to their respective islands.
Our governors, premiers and cabinets worked together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to facilitate an ‘air bridge’ flight from London to Bermuda, then onward to the Cayman Islands, on Monday, 6 April.
That flight also brought much-needed testing kits and pharmaceuticals to the OTs.
In closing, we have the convenience of social media tools such as; Whatsapp, Facebook and now Zoom, that enables us to contact our loved ones, near and far, instantaneously. If ever there was a time to use these services, it is now.
Happy Easter to you and your families. Stay safe, stay united, #stayathome.
- Thomas Christopher Famous is a government Member of Parliament in Bermuda. He is the Bermuda government representative for Caribbean Relations and Caricom and writes weekly columns for various Caribbean news sites. Famous can be reached via WhatsApp at (441)-599-0901 or via email at [email protected]