News that St. Maarten’s 2020 Carnival celebrations have been postponed until further notice capped off a day full of concerns regarding the dreaded coronavirus that is by now dominating daily headlines worldwide. US President Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday evening of precautionary measures including an embargo on flights from Europe failed to reassure the financial markets and was followed by the cancellation of an avalanche of public events as well as closures of educational and other institutions across the globe, including French-side day-cares and schools as of Monday.
Several cruise lines sailing in the Caribbean suspended operations and if this trend continues it will be a significant blow to the local economy still rebounding from the major hurricanes of September 2017. Stayover tourism too is sure to suffer as non-essential travel is being discouraged in the destination’s main source markets and people are already naturally inclined to stay home in such worrying conditions.
There is a bit of hope that some planning to vacation in Europe and other affected areas might choose to do so on the island instead, but – if so – this probably won’t compensate for the loss of business foreseen in the coming months. Government and the private sector will need to review their prognoses and make policy as well as budgetary adjustments where necessary.
It is now perhaps more important than ever to put remaining means in the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund managed by the World Bank to good use and execute related projects like rebuilding Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) and removing the boat wrecks from Simpson Bay Lagoon in a timely fashion, to keep the economy going until the hospitality industry gets back to normal.
The number of usual off-season layoffs can be expected to rise, so expanding the Emergency Income Support and Training Programme for under- and unemployed persons may be a good idea. Accelerating the home repairs and similar actions is also recommendable in the present circumstances.
It’s called Recovery Trust Fund for a reason and this COVID-19 crisis is nothing short of a calamity that “The Friendly Island” must and will overcome, especially with financial help already made available by the Netherlands. SXM Strong style.