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TCI Opposition Leader points to little communication by PDM Gov’t; says he was told of two COVID-19 cases since last week

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#TurksandCaicosIslands – Full Statement by Leader of Progressive National Party (PNP) – In times of national crisis, the well being of people surpasses politics, and all decisions made with the potential outcome of securing the welfare of the TCI and its people will be supported by me.

The Premier contacted me last week Thursday, 12 March 2020 to say that there were two suspected cases of COVID-19; seven persons were in self quarantine and that she would keep me updated on matters as results became known. That was the only conversation during this crisis that I have had with the Premier.  However, I am happy to hear that to date TCI is COVID-19 free.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global panic that are seeing border after border closing and countries becoming virtual fortresses as whole communities are forced by their governments to retreat within the walls of their homes. The streets of many busy commercial districts are reminiscent of the sixty’s television series: The Twilight Zone except that this is not science fiction, but reality.

In this hypervigilant environment of fear the TCI must take its cue from governments and countries with the technical skills and means to assess the risk and potential fall-out from the pandemic without frightening its people into psychological paralysis. However, considering the social and economic impact of a prolonged life cycle of the virus one wonders if TCIG has to date move swiftly enough to prepare the islands in the event the virus gets into the general population.  

As an example, the government should by now have undertaken the mass distribution of surgical masks; and alcohol base hand sanatisers – because many people simply do not have access to a dependable source of water, and some who do, cannot afford mask and sanitizers assuming that they are available locally.  This is especially concerning given that there are no testing facilities and the availability of testing kits in the islands has not been disclosed neither has the process for testing suspected cases to ensure that samples can reach labs before the expiration of the life span of the virus outside a host.

The TCI is a tourism dependent destination and the hiatus in travel may be devastating for the country. The industry indicates that cancellation rate for stay-over visitors to the TCI as of today has exceeded 60% of forward bookings for the next six weeks, and new bookings have ground to a halt. By some estimates the current rate of global infection is expected to peak towards the end of April but will be with us at least through June.  Therefore, the rate of cancellation could possibly last for 90 days. At the same time, cruise passenger arrivals for the time being has been reduced by 100%.

The multiplier effect of visitors spending in the local economy is difficult to measure but according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) the multiplier for tourism is 3.2 times the initial dollar spent.  Given significant leakages because of TCI dependence on imported goods and labour, as well as limited activities and attractions in the destination, a multiplier of 2 is assumed to be more realistic. Assuming therefore an adjusted average daily spending (ADS) per visitor of $200, the total impact to the GDP would be $400 per day per visitor.

Average visitor arrivals for March through the end of May in 2018 was 100,000 with an average stay of 6 nights according to TCI Statistics Department. Assuming TCIG was on target to receive the same number of visitors in the same period of 2020 as it received in 2018 that would translate into 600,000 nights at $200 or $120 million directly to the industry; with a multiplier of 2 that equals a contribution to the GDP of $240 million.  A 60% cancellation over 90 days could result in lost revenue to the industry of $72 million, to the GDP of $144 million and $14.4 million to TCIG from stay over visitors. Cruise tourism arrivals for the period March through May 2019 was approximately 265 000 passengers.  Assuming similar numbers were expected in 2020: an average spent per head of $50 would result in lost revenue of $13.25 million to vendors and tour operators in addition to TCIG departure tax of $14 translating to 3.7 million of lost TCIG revenue in the beleaguered economy of Grand Turk

Based on the above, a combined total of upwards to $85 million could potentially be loss to the private sector, over $18 million to TCIG and approximately $160 million could be shave off of the GDP in the next 90 days. This is a potential reduction of 16% base on a one-billion-dollar economy. The gravity of the situation may require the declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor under Section 37 (1)(c) of the TCI Constitution to mandate actions in the public interest.  What these actions should be would depend on the prevailing circumstances over time but should pertain to certain basic physiological needs of food, water, shelter and safety in its broadest sense; and may include rationing to discourage hoarding resulting in artificial shortages for some people; as well as price control on staples and sanitary goods.

Given the favourable cash balances of the TCIG, it should take action to ease the pressure off of consumers by removing duties and custom processing fees from all basic consumable merchandise imported, to make it easier on workers.  In addition, it should through the House of Assembly appropriate funding for social welfare to subsidize the living expenses of unsupported indigents, and other vulnerable groups; negotiate with financial institutions to freeze for a period of 90 days mortgage payments for those persons who find themselves unemployed or underemployed and unable to meet their payments; and negotiate a freeze on the Fortis rate increase and all other rates until further notice. Consider introducing a means testing framework to provide relief to basic wage earners in the hospitality and related industries until the industry recovers. 

Whatever the outcome, the situation has place in sharp focus the tremendous vulnerabilities we face as a small tourism dependent country. In the face of the challenges, it cannot be business as usual.  We must immediately reprogram our collective mind-set to suit our unique circumstances. In the new reality food and citizen security, social development and environmental sustainability MUST trump everything else. We simply must prepare ourselves for the growing natural and manmade threats of the 21st century. Regardless to how we arrive here and whatever our political persuasion maybe we face a common and uncertain future at least in the short term; and in these times must coalesce around the common value of cooperation and community.

Finally, I wish to appeal to all to heed the massages from the authorities. The risk is high, the threat is real, resources are limited and facilities are rudimentary.  Stay at home unless you absolutely need to be out. This too will pass, but in the meanwhile hunker down.

Sincere thanks and gratitude to all those on the frontline especially our medical professional and senior public health officials for your tireless efforts in monitoring this pandemic in the interest of all of us.  It is in these times when your genius shine. I appreciate your invaluable contribution and sacrifice and pray for your safety and good health.

May God bless our beautiful Islands and may he keep us safe and healthy!!!

Magnetic Media is a Telly Award winning multi-media company specializing in creating compelling and socially uplifting TV and Radio broadcast programming as a means for advertising and public relations exposure for its clients.

Health

Woman dies on Tuesday; 32nd Covid Death for Turks & Caicos

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 20, 2022 – The Turks and Caicos has recorded its 32nd death related to COVID-19.

A Ministry of Health press release informed that the individual who was in quarantine in Grand Turk and requested emergency aid on Tuesday; response came from the public health team in Grand Turk.

The person, who we are told is a special needs young woman – was unvaccinated and had underlying medical conditions.

The death rate in the Turks and Caicos of both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons has climbed alarmingly this year.  In the 21-month period from March 2020 when the country recorded its first case to December 2021, there were 26 deaths recorded in the TCI.

In the 19 days since the start of 2022 that number has increased to 32; which means six deaths already in January.

 

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Bahamas News

Cruising should slow down says PAHO

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

‘Slow down on Cruising’, that’s the word from the Pan American Health Organization, PAHO in their latest recent press conference.

Dr. Ciro Ugarte Director of Health Emergencies at the PAHO was referring to the Bahamas but made sure to note that the advice was highly relevant to many countries in the times of omicron.

“In the context of intense transmission, due to the Omicron variant as we have highlighted several times. It is just logical to suspend or at least limit the cruise ship traffic as an outbreak on board might end up exceedingly high and probably will go beyond the capacity of local health services”

Both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos are experiencing a massive uptick in cases and several warnings regarding cruise travel have been issued by the US Centers for Disease Control.

Cruising just resumed for many regional countries this past Summer, Turks and Caicos was among the latest to restart on December 13.

A stop to sailing would be devastating to economies, however, ports of call like Grand Turk which are reeling with rocketing case numbers of COVID are urged to consider the suggestion of slowing down on ships by PAHO.

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Caribbean News

Understanding Sargassum with help from the TCI’s Department of Environment & Coastal Resources  

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By Sherrica Thompson

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 20, 2022 – Sargassum, also known as seaweed, is a natural brown macroalga that lives in temperate and tropical oceans of the world. The floating micro eco-system is important to many species, including baby turtles, little crabs, and tiny fish. All these animals use the floating rafts of the sargassum for protection, shelter, and food.

Over the years, sargassum has been increasing its quantity in the Caribbean due to climate change. As water temperatures increase, sargassum blooms, and as this continues, it occurs in large amounts. This can be dangerous for some marine life because when seaweed washes up on the shore, some species become trapped in the sargassum mat.

Environmental Outreach Coordinator at the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources for TCI, Amy Avenant, says the Turks and Caicos Islands has not seen the worst of the overgrowth.

“In the Turks and Caicos Islands, we have not seen the full severity of sargassum blooms. Our neighbours in Bonaire, for example, experience up to six feet of sargassum, and they have found stranded dolphins, sea turtles, and sometimes even birds,” said Amy Avenant.

“When the sargassum washes up on shore, it starts to decompose, and when it decomposes, it emits methane, and that is the stinky sulfuric eggy smell that you can smell when you walk past it on the beach. It is a bad thing for climate change because of the methane, but it is not harmful to your health.”

Turks and Caicos saw this in extreme amounts in October; so severe, resorts were forced to bag and bury the stinky seaweed which for over a week covered the usually sandy white stretch of Grace Bay beach.

Avenant noted that in the TCI, we have a balance between managing the influx of sargassum and impacting the areas where it lands because its influx is correlated to the cycles of the moon.

She also said sargassum can be used as a fertilizer in farming. If you collect it, the advice is to spread it out and ensure you wash the excess salt off before adding to your gardens or farms.

There are also hidden dangers and habitat threats to the piles of sargassum on shorelines.

Avenant informed, when you see sargassum on the beach, ensure you watch out for wildlife that might be stuck and species which might have made a home of the ocean’s deposit which has washed up, this is heightened on rocky shores.

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