The Next New Normal: The Caribbean post-Covid-19

by Kari Grenade, PhD
Regional Economist and Macroeconomic Advisor

The Covid-19 pandemic is a global health crisis of enormous proportions. Since the outbreak started in December 2019, there have been over 80,000 deaths worldwide (as at 9 April 2020), of which a total of 38 have been spread across 10 Caricom countries.

Not only is Covid-19 a global health crisis, but it has upended social norms, caused acute psychological pain and delivered a decisive and pronounced shock to global economic and financial systems. Governments worldwide have rightly focused on containing the spread of the virus, with the ultimate objective of saving lives, with a proximate objective of protecting livelihoods as much as practical and feasible. Indeed, governments’ actions must continue, and in some cases, intensify to stop the virus.

While current efforts are rightly focused on containment, it is not too early for us in the Caribbean to start thinking about the new normal post-Covid-19, in fact, the “next new normal” because we have been in a new normal post the global financial crisis of 2008. For sure, the choice that we will face when we get past Covid-19 is how do we deal once and for all with the myriad of issues that are required to address our vulnerabilities and build our resilience to health and other crises in the future. Make no mistake, everything we do will, and must change post-Covid-19.

This article offers the following thoughts on how the Caribbean can begin to navigate towards the “next new normal.” I will elaborate on these ideas in a subsequent publication.

Fundamental Improvements in Pandemic Preparedness and Health Systems

The health crisis has exposed the Caribbean’s (and the world’s by and large) ill-preparedness to deal with pandemics. Of necessity therefore, the region needs a quantum shift in its approach to pandemic preparedness as well as substantial improvements in public health and enhancements in primary healthcare systems with attendant capacity building and institutional strengthening.

Renewed Focus on Building Resilience

Deforestation, pollution and other forms of environmental degradation exacerbate human health challenges and in turn, intensify the impacts of pandemics such as Covid-19. Indeed, the Covid-19 crisis has reinforced the imperative of building resilience in all of its forms, and resilience to pandemics must be given more prominence in the resilience-building architecture of the Caribbean. Even so, the Caribbean can ill-afford to lose focus on building resilience to climate change and must continue to invest in climate adaptation and mitigation measures and climate-resilient infrastructure. To be sure, the climate crisis remains the greatest existential threat to our humanity.

Overhaul of the Economic System and Approach to Policy Formulation

Coming out of this crisis, the region must jettison the extant economic model that isn’t rooted in moral values, which prioritizes profits over people, perpetuates income inequality, retards poverty reduction, undermines environmental sustainability and treats the deficient GDP per capita numeric as the sacrosanct measure of wellbeing and development. Of necessity, a new development paradigm is required; one that is based on a “systems-thinking and multi-sectoral” approach (rather than an incoherent, piecemeal and siloed approach) to public policy formulation. A development model that is inclusive and sustainable for current and future generations should prioritise economic, social and environmental sustainability in an integrated manner, where people and their wellbeing are the linchpin of development.

Innovation, Innovation, Innovation

The use of technology will become even more important post-Covid-19 because all facets of our lives will be different. Countries would have to operate in more resilient and sustainable ways; possibly with shorter supply chains, higher-energy-efficiency production, increased digitisation of sales and financial services, new modes of work (working remotely), greater use of technology in the education system (more online teaching) and in the agriculture sector to ensure food security, as well as in other sectors. Data systems would also have to be substantially improved to normalise the production and dissemination of real-time data and information to inform evidence-based decision making among other strategic objectives.

New Modes of Governance and Partnerships

Post-Covid-19, a new political culture and model of governance would be required. At minimum, these must promote inclusion and not division. Accordingly, citizens’ active participation in the development process must be better facilitated through entrenched and institutionalised arrangements. Protocols and compacts must be established to link citizens more directly to the decision-making process. Moreover, increased emphasis must be placed on broadening citizens’ understanding of public policies to promote country ownership of policies, foster national consensus on issues, and deepen trust between the Government and citizens. Importantly also, genuine and durable partnerships must be forged among stakeholders in the development process to promote unity and solidarity across different political, gender, class, social, age, and other real or perceived divides. Stronger partnerships within and across countries would be needed. Regarding the latter, the institutions of Caricom would need to be reshaped or perhaps even reimagined to ensure their resilience and relevance in the “next new normal” post-Covid-19.

Rebirthing of the Society

Coming out of the Covid-19 crisis our human spirits, both individually and collectively should be renewed. The crisis should teach us the importance of living a life of purpose and living life on purpose. Social interactions should improve, relationships strengthened, compassion bolstered, and joy found in the simple things of life, such as being at one with nature. Indeed, the crisis can mark the rebirthing of our societies with a renewed sense of unity, purpose and common destiny, where we all live peacefully, safely, lovingly with each other and in harmony with our natural environment.

Finally, the crisis of our times presents opportunities for rebalancing, refocusing, reshaping and re-energising systems, frameworks and underpinning institutions. Stakeholders in the development process – public sector, private sector, civil society organisations, community and faith-based organisations, youth, academia and individuals – must act with unity of purpose, collective clarity and shared responsibility to shape a more resilient and prosperous Caribbean post-Covid-19. For sure, the Covid-19 crisis is a defining moment of our times as a Caribbean people and region and we must be willing to leave the familiar without disturbing the essentials; the essentials of safety, security, health, social relationships, equality, a decent living standard and harmony with nature.

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