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Caribbean not digitally prepared for COVID-19 says IDB executive

The Caribbean is not ready to operate in a virtual state, as needed in this COVID-19 state of affairs, said Therese Turner-Jones, General Manager, Caribbean Country Department of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The Inter-American Development Bank

During a recent webinar, titled “Coronavirus and the Caribbean: Economic Implications and Options”, hosted by the IDB Caribbean Department, Turner-Jones gave the region a rating of 5 out of 10 in terms of readiness.

She emphasised, “We are not nearly as ready as we should be. We have mobile devices, millions in the region. However, we do not have as much digital use, regarding services, government and private. For example, the banking systems, Caribbean people still do not trust online transactions.”

“We are seeing the emergence of more humble human beings. When, not if, we get through this, I hope we can see the things we fight about are so trivial.”

– Regional Economic Advisor, Caribbean Country Department of the IDB, David Rosenblatt

Turner-Jones pointed out that the effects of COVID-19 on the region will probably create a different future, where financial institutions will move in the direction of leaning heavily on digital platforms. For his part, James Scriven, CEO, IDB Invest, announced that the IDB was working with large telecoms companies to build more physical infrastructure through the raising of additional towers in the region, to aid in not just boosting Internet coverage but quality as well, which would boost the coming digital age.

While the COVID-19 crisis is still in a significant fallout stage, thoughts towards the recovery phase are in the air. Turner-Jones addressed the concern of balancing the push to save the economies of the region versus protecting the people, saying the latter was more important.

She said “whatever measures are necessary to stem the spread. We do not have robust healthcare infrastructure to battle an irresponsible response. We do not have enough ICUs (Intensive Care Units), ventilators and safety equipment. We all want to be sensible about this, we have to be careful.”

David Rosenblatt, Regional Economic Advisor, Caribbean Country Department of the IDB, highlighted that the region was accustomed to hurricanes which destroyed infrastructure, but in the case of COVID-19, that was not the case. However, Rosenblatt contended the region must save the people and that while buildings stood, if people became ill, there would be no workforce. He offered a solution for the downtime of educating staff for the virtual environment.

The length of time for the recovery of the region was also questioned and Turner-Jones responded that the region had just begun to climb out of the 2008 recession hole. Turner-Jones urged the region to find the courage and be disciplined in their behaviour to face the crisis no one saw coming, while Scriven stated that it was a time to push the reset button.

“We are seeing the emergence of more humble human beings. When, not if, we get through this, I hope we can see the things we fight about are so trivial,” he concluded.