COMMENTARY: Coping with the economic impact of COVID-19 in Dominica

In a previous press release, the Dominica Business Forum Inc. encouraged the private sector to shut down operations to save lives. The DBF Inc. applauds the private sector enterprises who have taken a proactive role in shutting down their business operations and others who have creatively transformed their operations to continue to offer critical services to the population, but at the same time, reducing the risk of contracting the Corona Virus (COVID-19), by implementing the principles of social distancing.

Civil society organizations must also be commended for their action in suspending mass gatherings and encouraging their patrons to reduce activities to a maximum of ten persons. The churches, sporting associations, entertainment organizations have all played their part in curtailing activities, which will definitely mitigate against the community spread of COVID-19.

Commendations and appreciation must be extended to the health professionals and other service providers who are on the frontline of the battle against COVID – 19 in their quest to protect the lives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Dominica, this is done at great risk to themselves and their love ones.

Now that the State has finally closed, all ports of entry to passengers, and they have implemented a fourteen-day mandatory quarantine for all persons entering the Commonwealth of Dominica, the possibility of importing COVID-19 has been significantly reduced and can finally be controlled.  We applaud the government for taking good professional advice and listening to its citizens.  However, legislative support may be still required in some areas.

The onus is now on the population and the State authorities to garner all our efforts towards stopping the community spread of COVID – 19, that is already on the island, by implementing a robust program of identifying infected persons with the symptoms, persuading suspects who demonstrate symptomatic characteristics and others who have been in contact with confirmed cases, to cooperate with the authorities and to seek testing.

The Dominica Business Forum Inc. wishes to remind the government of Dominica that the COVID-19 Pandemic is unchartered territory, for the entire global community, where even the most developed countries are struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic, which extends beyond health issues. The economic and social impact on the lives of citizens are equally important and must be given consideration.

The declaration of a curfew at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, to take effect within three hours from 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday 31st March, has given the private sector no time to prepare and to safeguard their facilities. An island-wide curfew will stretch the limited resources of the Dominica Police Force beyond its limit and may result counterproductive since it creates an opportunity for criminal activity. Enforcement of an island-wide curfew requires the collaboration of the citizens to assist the police.

At this stage, greater collaboration among the public sector, private sector and civil society is required in the fight against COVID – 19 Pandemic. A massive public education campaign would be helpful to inform the population of the actions that are being undertaken and to encourage a participatory approach. The impression given that the Dominican population is all connected to social media is incorrect since many persons still depend on radio, flyers, newspapers and other traditional forms of communication to obtain information.

The Dominica Business Forum Inc., therefore, recommends the following:

  1. That the closure of all ports of entry, to passengers, remains in effect until such time that the COVID – 19 risks to the population is clarified by the WHO.
  2. All persons entering the Commonwealth of Dominica should continue to be quarantined for fourteen days.
  3. Testing of persons with symptoms of COVID should be intensified.
  4. Efforts to stop Community Spread of COVID-19 should be intensified and supported by identifying contacts associated with confirmed cases and by the increase of the testing mechanism.
  5. Employees should be allowed vacation leave as compensation for time out and further consideration must be given to compensation for a possible prolonged shutdown. Consultation with the Employers, Trade Unions, The Dominica Social Security and Government should consider a further support package of 3-6 weeks for employees and provide for recovery by employers and DSS.
  6. The public sector and a more represented group of the private sector must meet to discuss possible solutions to the economic crisis, including the conditions required for the return to normalcy.
  7. Coming from these consultations, the Government of Dominica should declare the fiscal status of the State and what is possible as far as fiscal support and assistance is concerned.
  8. A contingency plan for the call to Dominican health professionals overseas to be placed on standby, to return to Dominica, to assist, in the event that local resources and the Cuban assistance, are inadequate to deal with a deteriorated situation.

The burden of the COVID-19 Pandemic is the collective responsibility of all sectors of the Dominican society and only an all-inclusive and transparent approach will successfully overcome the crisis. The unpredictable nature of the situation demands proper planning, for the worse, because the state apparatus will be stretched beyond its capacity.

The Dominica Business Forum Inc. considers this moment in history as the opportune time for the nation to genuinely unite in thoughts, words and deeds for the salvation of the nation against an invisible enemy.

May the Good Lord continue to bless and protect our beloved nation.

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