(Barbados Today) – Prime Minister Mia Mottley on Monday pledged to place the health of the nation over tens of millions in potential economic gains as she announced an eleven-day extension to the ongoing Coronavirus lockdown that maintains a strict 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Mottley, however, expressed confidence in the country’s ability to withstand over $150 million in projected losses over the four-week period. In fact, she disclosed details of an economic response that would ease the financial burden of businesses and individuals ravaged by the pandemic.
The difficult decisions are unfolding at a time when the country battles over 600 active COVID-19 cases.
During an almost hour-long address, Mottley explained the decision to extend the restricting measures until the last day of February was consistent with the best advice of her public health team that includes representation from the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP). The only adjustment after February 17 is the decision to allow minimarts to re-open from Monday to Friday.
“The public health personnel, BAMP and other health professionals have all expressed their views to me and to the Cabinet, and generally, there is a belief that we need to continue doing what we are doing and more than pausing, we really need to stop,” the Mottley declared.
“What is before the government today are very clear recommendations for an extension of the period that we have and at the same time, against that background, a desire on the part of the private sector and [Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados] CTUSAB to be able to have us open back up. This was not an easy decision that we had to make,” Mottley added.
Acknowledging the country had done “reasonably well” since the February 3 start of the most recent lockdown to contain the impact of community spread, she added: “We are not yet where we need to be.”
“What is therefore needed at this point is genuine compliance by as many of us as possible,” said the Prime Minister.
While there are no guarantees the lockdown will be lifted on February 28th, Ms. Mottley explained that Barbadians would be in a better position to assess the percentage of daily positive cases and the R-values, as the country had rectified issues processing COVID-19 tests that resulted in a massive backlog over the last few weeks.
On the economic side of things, PM Mottley revealed that her finance and economic team have advised that a two-week extension of the lockdown would not result in collapse. According to her, the economy recorded more than $78 million in losses over the first half of the lockdown and between 70 and 75 million is projected during the second half.
She added that over $2.6 billion or 30 weeks’ of import cover are held in Government’s coffers and was more than enough to service the country’s needs.
To aid the thousands of unemployed workers and businesses, the PM revealed that Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn would soon meet with players in the financial sector to ask for an ease in the payment of retail and commercial loans. Mottley has also promised to extend existing social protection programmes to protect small businesses and vendors.
“I’ve said to Minister Straughn that we need to meet with the financial sector and to ensure that we can put arrangements in place that will allow people to have their heads above water and to be able to have as far as possible to be able to service their loans, even if it means re-profiling much of it because of the protracted period of time that we have had to deal with this fight with COVID,” explained the PM.
“I’ve also asked him to have a conversation with the utility companies to ensure that for persons whose cash flow is negatively affected, that some kind of arrangements can be put in place over a three to four-month period rather than being forced to pay everything in one month while no revenue is coming in,” Mottley added.
Coming out of the latest lockdown, she also revealed the Government’s intention to refine the Barbados Economic Sustainability and Transformation (BEST) programme to prevent hotels and other accommodations from becoming run down.
Mottley also pointed to Government’s highly-touted capital works projects as a ray of hope. These range from the restoration of Golden Square in The City to a massive road rehabilitation project in the Scotland District, which are all still in the works.