Good starting point

Good starting point

Just like the rest of the world, St. Maarten too is tightening social-distancing measures related to the COVID-19 crisis. Following the announcement that businesses providing essential services still allowed to open effective Saturday had to close by 8:00pm, this has now been moved back to 6:00pm except for a handful of entities.

While the beach has been a welcome escape from confinement for many, renting chairs, etc. is no longer allowed and groups of more than five are prohibited. The intention is clearly for as many people as possible to stay home and avoid gatherings.

Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said this “partial lockdown” will last at least two more weeks. That may not be welcome news, but preventing any significant local outbreak is key especially for an island with very limited medical resources.

However, that makes getting help to entrepreneurs and workers increasingly urgent. Some people have already been laid off or placed on reduced hours, while various employers will struggle to meet the end-of-month payroll.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers has pledged assistance based on a needs assessment by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but what that will mean in practice for the average resident remains very much to be seen. There is also still US $200 million left in the Hurricane Irma Recovery Trust Fund managed by the World Bank that can be reallocated to face this new, equally daunting challenge.

Socioeconomic stimulus was also high on the agenda in The Hague, as the Dutch government approved a basic package (see Saturday paper) that applies to the Caribbean Netherlands too. Companies in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba that lose 20 per cent of their turnover may apply for three months of salaries compensation of up to 80 per cent if they keep on their staff. Although that sounds a bit arbitrary, it at least gives the private sector an idea of what to expect.

As is the case on those three islands, the 80 per cent is also used in St. Maarten for loss of wages in case of sickness by Social and Health Insurance SZV. It seems like a good starting point.