straight to the point – from different points of view

Vaccination Red Alert

Vaccination Red Alert

In my recent column discussing the daily cost of the pandemic to T&T, and by implication the price we should be willing to pay for a solution, I presented a number of estimates. Those included the rate at which we are vaccinating the population presently and the monthly cost to the economy while total vaccinations linger well below 60 percent of the population.

My estimates regarding those two numbers led to a rather depressing conclusion about when we could expect to achieve the target of herd immunity that would allow us to resume something approaching normal economic and social activity. It was in the order of two years with all the social and other consequences that inevitably flow from that and which I did not elaborate upon. I leave that to others with relevant expertise and experience to explore.

I return to the subject today because we now have access to data from the authorities that presumably leads us to more accurate and trustworthy calculations. There have been a few public statements that deal directly with the issues at hand. I will quote verbatim from those statements and then amend my calculations to reflect what I assume to be more accurate assumptions or underlying data that was and is still not directly accessible to the public.

Firstly we have the following – CARIBBEAN Hotel and Tourism Association first vice-president Nicola Madden-Greig said the regional tourism sector was hard hit last year by the pandemic, with a loss of US$36 billion in gross domestic product and thousands of workers lost their jobs as well. She was concerned about further losses, if regional tourism was not restarted in a substantial way soon.

I made estimates about the range within which our annual economic loss might lie. Here we have a body with access to the data, telling us that the tourism sector suffered losses of US36 billion in one year alone. We do not have the breakdown by country, but would it be unreasonable to assume that T&T likely accounts for 10% of that figure? That would be US 3.6 billion or TT 25 billion. Bear in mind that that figure is with respect to tourism losses only. To that we must add losses in the energy, manufacturing, financial and other sectors. Our annual losses can therefore be confirmed, as I suggested to be in the region of TT 40 billion.

Next we have this – “At a news conference on Saturday, hosted by the Prime Minister at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the Government is hoping to vaccinate some 134,000 people with both doses of either the Oxford Astra-Zeneca or Sinopharm vaccines by August 31”.

I based my calculations on an assumed vaccination rate of 100,000 per month. That meant that we would need more than a year to get to the magical 60% or 1 million people being vaccinated. The statement quoted above means that I was to optimistic. Minister Deyalsingh tells us that 134,000 people in total will be vaccinated by August 31. The reality according to him is that we plan to vaccinate at a rate hovering around 40,000. That would get us to our target in a little over two years rather than the ten months that I had been projecting.

The third statement of note came from no less a person than Prime Minister Rowley who said that Government has been “holding the line until we are able to vaccinate our country to a level where this virus becomes, as it has a potential to be, a normal part of our human existence, but not threatening us on a daily basis with death and destruction.”

I include this statement as it is confirmation directly from the Prime Minister that we must hold the line until we arrive at a time when in his words the virus becomes a normal part of our human existence. By that I presume he means that we will achieve herd immunity through vaccination of 60 percent of the population at some time in the future. The statement of Minister Deyalsingh about the vaccination rate tells us when that date will be. It will occur sometime after May 2023.

Do those statements mean that the population also has to hold the line with a State of Emergency and a curfew in operation for the next two years? Do they mean that the government will have to continue its support payments for two more years, and can it be afforded? If not, what will be the impact socially and economically?

We now have it directly from the heart of government that their data points to two more years of desperate suffering. Even at present levels, government subsidies are woefully inadequate in meeting the basic needs of the majority of the population. With state income decimated by the pandemic and our inability to engineer a rapid turnaround, it is certain that subsidies will have to be savagely cut in ways that can hardly be imagined now. A further predictable consequence of that eventuality will be an explosion of social unrest including crime. I wait to hear from others about the likely impact on mental health of the youth and other vulnerable groups.

The stubborn refusal to peer into the future comes as no surprise to me. This is a malaise that lies at the heart of almost every financial disaster that has befallen us. With chilling regularity (certainty?) we undertake actions based solely on short term considerations. You may be familiar with my frequent lament about major investment decisions being made without Cash Flow Projections, Needs Analyses, Risk Analyses, Feasibility Studies etc. The management of this crisis follows in those unfortunate footsteps.

You would think that after admitting that vaccination rates are around 40,000 per month, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet would extrapolate that level of performance and see that we will still be in the mire for at least another two years. They should then understand the likely economic and social consequences of continuing along that trajectory. They should be terrified of the result of a continuation of the current pace and direction of their efforts.

Deep down, they probably suspect what the outcome is likely to be. However, if past is prologue, then I suspect that they chose simply to look the other way. They have decided upon a fatalist approach where they cross the road in front of a moving vehicle without looking at the driver as if to say “Bounce meh nah”. You might think that such an approach cannot be possible from a government that is being lauded in many quarters for doing as good a job as is possible. I say look at the evidence of past investment decision making (Petrotrin, Magdalena Grand etc.) and their refusal to share even the most mundane information about those decisions with the population.

Having admitted the reality that we are vaccinating at the appalling rate of 40,000 per month, is it unreasonable to ask the Minister to tell us what is the projected rate after August 30? Is it that he is staring contentedly at a blank sheet of paper? Are the projections so dire that he dare not share them with us? What about a forward looking impact analysis? I respectfully suggest that it is the responsibility of the government to give citizens, businesses and the community a vision of the future that enables us all to make the best decisions to protect our families and property into the future.

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