With the extensive business closures and other steps announced on Tuesday, of which several went into effect at midnight, St. Maarten has reached the final stage in stopping the spread of COVID-19 before the ultimate remedy of a complete lockdown, as applied in heavily-affected areas globally. By allowing continued free movement and permitting “essential services” such as supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and restaurants –only for delivery and takeout – to stay open, authorities are preventing panic-buying of primarily food and fuel, while catering to persons including visitors not able to prepare all their own meals.
School is also out and people who can are encouraged to stay home, avoiding close contact with outsiders. It will not be an easy time, because for many no work often unfortunately still means no or reduced pay, while some not in permanent service are already being laid off. When those who feel their next salary is secure want to act like it’s a vacation, they should remember that.
The tourism industry has come to a screeching halt comparable only to the period following major hurricane hits or the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the United States. Emergency relief will be required to prevent mass dismissals and employers going belly-up, with all consequences for personnel.
Government, operating at a deficit and requiring liquidity support as it is, will also lose income from turnover and other taxes, so it seems obvious that financial means from alternative sources are going to be needed. Thankfully, it was indicated in Monday’s Parliament meeting on the coronavirus that an amount of approximately US $200 million remains in the Post-Hurricane Irma Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund, and reallocating part of this money to address what is nothing short of an unprecedented worldwide calamity has been suggested.
The World Bank that manages the fund, the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB), the Netherlands, local government and private sector stakeholders must move quickly, jointly and decisively to expand existing projects and initiate new ones that make a significant positive socioeconomic impact. All the discussion on how long actually spending these funds is taking since the hurricanes of September 2017 must make room for renewed unified resolve to face a different, yet equally devastating enemy.