By Michael Jarvis, London, UK
Are the UK’s Caribbean Overseas territories missing out on an opportunity to collaborate in the fight against COVID-19 now sweeping through their islands, the rest of the Caribbean and the world?
While the virus continues to run rampant across the Caribbean, and the independent states struggle to find adequate resources to respond to the pandemic, the five UK territories in the region should - at least on the surface - be better placed to respond to the public health and economic challenges that the disease poses.
And, not just because of their size. The six OTs Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands vary in population from around 65,000 each approximately for the Cayman Islands and Bermuda to around 4,600 for Montserrat.
At last count Bermuda had 86 COVID-19 cases and 5 deaths, Cayman Islands 66 and 1 death, Turks and Caicos Islands and Montserrat each with 11 reported cases, British Virgin Islands 5 cases and 1 death and Anguilla three cases.
Even though economically the islands conduct most of their trade with the United States, the constitutional umbilical link to the United Kingdom underpins their co-existence as a unit in the modern global community.
With the scale and ferocity of the COVID-19 pandemic that is a crucial safety net.
However, although the UK has committed to - and has - already rendered assistance in the form of medical supplies to the islands, an initiative of the Cayman Islands to strike out on its own and secure a massive shipment of the supplies from South Korea is noteworthy.
This goes beyond the ability of Cayman to dip into its own tourism-buoyed and financial sector-fuelled treasury to pay its way.
Other territories, perhaps with exception of UK-aid-reliant Montserrat, could have made a similar self-help move as Cayman did…or they could have done it jointly.
The Cayman Islands Government (CIG) reports that it spent in the region of $KY4.5 million to purchase a 'suppliers-minimum' of 200,000 pieces of the much-sought-after personal protective equipment(PPE) and other ‘coronavirus-combatting’ medical supplies from South Korea.
It has been confirmed that the Governor's Office in Cayman and the British Embassy in Seoul were instrumental in making this happen.
What is also noteworthy is the willingness of Cayman to share ‘on a cost basis’, a portion of its shipment of the vital PPE with its sister OTs and other neighbouring countries.
Bermuda and Turks and Caicos Islands have already made approaches; Bermuda received 35,000 pieces and Turks and Caicos Islands is making enquiries.
Outside the OTs family, Barbados has ordered 20,000 and St Lucia is also said to be interested.
The UK, through the efforts of Baroness Lizz Sugg, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for the Caribbean OTs, has also been coordinating supplies for the territories to cope with the onslaught of COVID-19.
The annual UK hurricane disaster response preparation for the Caribbean OTs is already in operation.
The annual UK/OTs Joint Ministerial Council has been pushed off the agenda and not much more has been heard recently of a call by some UYK parliamentarians to initiative a move towards representation for the territories in the British parliament.
While the latter has been nudged off the list of priorities, (it is likely to return) other issues remain.
How the Caribbean OTs with their very similar economies and common constitutional link to the UK recover from COVID-19 is going to require a joint strategy among themselves in addition to assistance from the UK.
However, much of this seems to be happening without much ‘inter-OT’ outreach, collaboration or coordination beyond what seems to be top-down; albeit that ‘topdown’ perception seems more coincidental than by design.
Utilising each others’ capabilities, experiences and expertise in the fight against COVID-19 seems a logical best-practice strategy.
In this respect, it behoves the OTs to reach out to each other, especially the sister territory which seems best-placed to lead the effort. At the moment - and for some time now - that seems to be Cayman.
Not only will that speak volumes for inter-OT coordination and collaboration, but will also set the stage for a new level of cooperation not just among their governments but including their peoples.