St Kitts – Nevis opposition calls for economic stimulus to meet COVID 19 challenges

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Opposition Leader, Dr Denzil L Douglas

By Caribbean News Global contributor

BASSETERRE, St Kitts – Political leader of the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) Dr Denzil L Douglas, on Tuesday, in an address to the nation reiterated the requirements for a unified approach on COVID-19.

Dr Douglas called for stringent price control to prevent gouging; the establishment of an unemployment stipend to those who are financially challenged; a stimulus package for businesses, suspension of payments on mortgages and student and other loans; a moratorium on penalties and late fees; recall of retired nurses; and special attention to the elderly and vulnerable groups.

“What is needed today is a unified approach setting aside all political and ideological differences and coalescing around a common and agreed strategy,” said Dr Douglas. “That is why, last week we called on the government to take a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach by establishing a National COVID-19 Task Force, and we indicated our readiness and willingness to work with the authorities, the private sector and all social partners to save lives and to protect our people.”

Dr Douglas reiterated calls, “For our government to set up this National Taskforce consisting of experts from the infectious disease and medical fraternity, civil society and business community to develop a comprehensive national approach to address this issue. We as a responsible party have ideas, as we suspect other groups have, as to how this matter should be handled. There are numerous steps and measures which have already been announced in other jurisdictions which may be considered in St Kitts and Nevis.

Perhaps the most important of these is the measure of social distancing,” Dr Douglas said. “This must be implemented if the chain of transmission is to be contained. This is essential and we must practice social distancing in our daily lives to overcome this crisis,” he said.

“We urge the Dr Timothy Harris administration to be proactive and forthright in addressing the people about the specific preparations that are being made and the protocols that are being followed,” Douglas told the nation.

“While we in St Kitts and Nevis await the announcement of any known case, we should nonetheless be aware, that it is only a matter of time. Therefore, it is extremely important and urgent that we prepare ourselves and be ready, not just to prevent the spread but also to detect, manage and contain the transmission of this very contagious.

“We are all aware that developments in relation to the spread of the deadly virus are changing rapidly, virtually by the minute, as countries around the world try to cope with its effects, not just on their public health system, but the economic, social and commercial impacts as well,” Dr Douglas said.

He noted that in North America, as well as in the Caribbean, heads of government have made announcements and issued guidelines, about what is needed to prevent and manage the transmission of the disease. There is a need to ensure that the best practices that are being used worldwide are followed as the health and economic impact of this pandemic on S. Kitts and Nevis will be immense and expansive.

“It has already affected our tourism industry and services sectors. It will continue to affect our businesses, especially our small businesses; our state institutions, our schools, our government offices, and more importantly, it can overwhelm our health institutions and our health system, he said.

To address this pandemic effectively and minimize its adverse effects we must approach this together – all of us. This pandemic does not care about your political affiliation. It does not care about your ethnicity or whether you are a resident or a citizen. It cares not whether you are rich or poor, able or disabled.

Repeating some of the hygenic procedures that must be done to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Dr Douglas commended all the institutions which have taken steps to practice social distancing.

“While we take these personal steps and institutional steps to implement these guidelines, there is still a need for a national conversation to address the institutional and economic fallout from this pandemic,” he said, pointing out that the first and most immediate step that must be taken is to ensure that the health system is well resourced and equipped with the right technologies and well-trained staff.

“There is a critical need for more ventilators, respirators and ICU equipment. Our health care practitioners will be severely impacted, especially our doctors, nurses, cleaners and emergency personnel who will be at the front line of this fight. There might be a need to recall some of our retired nurses in order to assist with efforts. There is a desperate need for a hotline linked to the critical health personnel where people can give and receive information,” he said.

Noting that there are gaps and shortcomings, Dr Douglas again called on the government to seek help from friendly nations like Taiwan and Cuba and around the Caribbean region which can provide additional technical, logistical, material and technological support.

Financial and economic impact

“There is no doubt that every citizen and resident will be affected. The closing of our schools and our daycare centers close will impact our parents. The closing of our businesses will impact their employees and the many people who depend on their goods and services.

“The announcement by the cruise ships to suspend their itineraries in the Caribbean region will adversely affect our taxi drivers, restaurant workers and the thousands who work in our hotel and tourism sector,” Dr Douglas further pointed out, proposing that in light of the loss of employment “we are urging the government of St Kitts and Nevis to explore measures that would provide income support to our vulnerable citizens who will be disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.”

“We are calling on the ministry of consumer affairs to institute price controls for a limited period to prevent price gouging on essential goods. Our businesses should seek to provide online options for purchasing and delivery of goods and services.

“We also hope that at the time of recovery from this crisis appropriate stimulus measures, will be instituted to assist our businesses,” said Dr Douglas, who further encouraged local banks to suspend payments on mortgages and student and other loans and to put a moratorium on penalties and late fees.

“In the short term, we would like to urge the Harris administration to consider implementing a form of Unemployment Insurance that would provide a weekly, fortnightly or monthly stipend for individuals who may have lost their jobs as a result of downsizing – particularly those in the tourism and manufacturing sectors. Our people must be given the assurance that they will not be thrown out of their homes, their businesses will not be foreclosed on and students won’t lose their student loans. A rationing system may need to be put in place to ensure that we do not run out of food and other essential goods,” said the SKNLP leader.

“This is a time for our nation to come together, for our communities to come together and for us to all be our brothers’ keeper. We must resist the natural instinct to each look inward as to what we must do to secure the survival of ourselves and our families. This is not the Kittitian and Nevisian way,” Douglas said.

He also urged all to be considerate of others and to look out for those who are most vulnerable – the homeless, the mentally challenged, the elderly and shut-ins to ensure that they too are coping.

“And even our youths must remember that you can be vulnerable. We are a resilient people and we will overcome this latest challenge, but it will take discipline and adapting our way of life to the present context.  It will take rising to a new normal that, it is my hope, will elevate all humanity to a new way of life and social and economic interaction that is more balanced, more fair, more empathetic and compassionate.

“My thoughts and prayers are with you all, my fellow citizens and residents of our proud St Kitts and Nevis,” Dr Douglas concluded.

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