By Caribbean News Global contributor

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Addressing a tourism linkages network digital forum on Friday, May 7, on the theme: ‘Tourism Diplomacy – Rebuilding Tourism Safely’ tourism minister, Edmund Bartlett echoed the call to come together and speak with a unified voice, in all international fora, about vaccine inequality.

Developing Countries and the Caribbean face a dilemma to acquire COVID-19 vaccines, the persuasion of public health to attain ‘Herd Immunity’ and the return to social and economic revitalization.  And based on global trends it is estimated that the poorest countries will not be able to reach a vaccination rate of 60 percent of their populations until 2023 or later.

The Caribbean is a tourism-dependent economy, tourism-dependent economies, such as those in the Caribbean, have lost 12 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), compared to 4.4 percent globally. Minister Bartlett said: “Indeed, the current state of vaccine inequity has to be dramatically reversed as global economic recovery efforts cannot afford to be delayed or prolonged for years, especially among the worst-affected regions.”

Within the region, said Bartlett, save for the Cayman Islands, Aruba, and Monserrat that have fully vaccinated significant percentages of their populations, most of the Caribbean “lags far behind.” He, however, cited figures for 14 territories indicating the extent to which they have administered at least one vaccine dose, and that this ranges from a low of two percent in Trinidad and Tobago to a high of 30 percent in Antigua and Barbuda, with Jamaica at five percent.

Minister Bartlett said a promising development is the fact that more than 200 additional vaccines are in development, of which more than 60 are at the clinical trials stage.

“It is expected that several billion doses of vaccines will be produced globally throughout 2021. We are certainly in a much better place than we were several months ago in terms of the global battle against the pandemic,” minister Bartlett continued. “The tourism industry has a vested interest in making sure that recovery happens as quickly as possible as the sooner the pandemic ends, the sooner people will start travelling again.”

“If the global distribution of vaccines becomes significantly equitable throughout the rest of the year, there is a strong possibility that the return of tourism to near-normal levels by year-end and beyond will be quite possible,” he noted, if Caribbean economic recovery is expected to begin this year and employment is to be restored and tourism is to return in a significant way, “many more vaccines need to be made available very soon.”

“The tourism industry, at both the global and regional levels, must [therefore] speak up about vaccine equity louder than it already has and assume a more significant role in tackling the issue if the industry is to return to any sense of normality, as without vaccine equity, there will be no travel recovery,” Bartlett underscored.  “This will be critical in … ensuring that we are able to gain the confidence of the millions of persons from [visitor] source markets, who may travel shortly, that destination Jamaica is safe [against COVID-19] and that there is very little risk of infection, coming to Jamaica,” tourism minister Bartlett said.

Meanwhile, The World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) mid-year report says economic recovery under threat amid surging COVID cases and lagging vaccination in poorer countries. The WESP mid-year report warned widening inequality is threatening global growth, projected at 5.4 percent this year.

“Vaccine inequity between countries and regions is posing a significant risk to an already uneven and fragile global recovery”, said UN Chief Economist Elliott Harris. “Timely and universal access to COVID-19 vaccinations will mean the difference between ending the pandemic promptly and placing the world economy on the trajectory of a resilient recovery, or losing many more years of growth, development and opportunities.”

However, while China and the United States are on the road to recovery, growth remains fragile and uncertain in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean. To which many countries will not see economic output return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or 2023.

“For a vast majority of developing countries, economic output will remain below 2019 levels for most of 2021”, the reports said. “Amid insufficient fiscal space to stimulate demand, many of these countries will face low and stagnant growth and the prospect of a lost decade.”

Moreover, the report also details a strong but uneven recovery in global trade, which has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels due to demand for electrical and electronic equipment, personal protective equipment, and other manufactured goods. Nevertheless, it sums up that economies which depend on manufacturing have fared better, but countries which rely on tourism, or commodities, are unlikely to see a quick rebound. Tourism services, in particular, will remain depressed due to the slow lifting of restrictions on international travel, coupled with fears of new waves of COVID-19 infection.

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