We must not roll over and die


We must not roll over and die

Friday, March 20, 2020

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Governments across the world are responding to the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with economic stimulus packages amounting to billions of dollars, even as they implement measures designed to stem its spread.

In many instances, including here in Jamaica, the stimulus packages offer support for business investment, as well as cash flow assistance for employers and workers.

Locally, the fiscal measures being implemented by the Government include:

• a waiver on the special consumption tax on approximately 100,000 litres of alcohol for use in making (or substituting for) sanitisers that will be donated to the National Health Fund and Ministry of Health;

• a waiver on Customs duty on the importation of masks, gloves, hand sanitisers, and liquid hand soap for a 90-day period;

• waiving of a requirement that business process outsourcing firms keep the equipment used in their operations at their place of business in order to facilitate people working from home;

• the provision of temporary cash transfer to businesses in targeted sectors based on the number of workers they keep employed, as well as to individuals where it can be verified that they lost their employment since March 10 when the first COVID-19 case was reported in Jamaica;

• a special soft loan fund to assist individuals and businesses that have been hard hit; and

• special COVID-related grants for the poor and vulnerable.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke told the country that the Government is finalising details on the implementation and accountability mechanisms for these programmes. He also said the measures would be implemented transparently with broad stakeholder involvement.

We will hold Minister Clarke at his word, because the measures he has announced will require meticulous implementation and strict monitoring to ensure that the people and companies that benefit are those that really are in need.

Given the impact of COVID-19 so far on the global economy, we suspect that recovery will take a long time.

On Wednesday this week, news emerged that policymakers in the United States were preparing for the pandemic lasting for up to 18 months or longer and could “include multiple waves” of illness.

News reports out of the US said that, while there was no indication that the American Government believed the pandemic would last that long, the Administration had to assume a longer timeline to ensure preparedness.

Certainly, the successful development and distribution of a vaccine will reduce that forecast and, if all goes well, the world will shift into recovery mode. As is the case with all viruses, COVID-19 will run its course. We should not be left gasping in the aftermath of its passage.

It makes sense, therefore, for us to start planning for that phase of our existence, even as we continue to combat COVID-19. We should not submit to the temptation to roll over and die as such a defeatist attitude does not inspire hope or confidence.

We subscribe to the view expounded by late American President Theodore Roosevelt in his first inauguration address at the height of the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

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