CARICOM Heads agree to develop common responses to challenges posed by COVID-19

CARICOM Heads of Government have agreed, at an emergency online video meeting held on 15 April, to a joined-up response to the multiple challenges posed by the Coronavirus to public health, the regional economy, food security and other issues.

Responding to a letter sent by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, in her capacity as Chair of CARICOM, Heads met to discuss the moist pressing strategic issues relating to the impact of the virus on the region.

According to a statement, Heads agreed that a collective approach would be made to International Financial Institutions. CARICOM is seeking assistance to meet the financial and fiscal challenges that all countries in the Anglophone Caribbean are experiencing as a result of the crisis. In doing so, they will seek to have donors recognise that that the usual criteria for support of GDP per capita should not be the sole consideration used when it came to assessing the needs of the of CARICOM states. A far better measurement would be an understanding of each country’s vulnerability and need, the statement noted.

On public health, it was agreed that Ministers of Health would consider and make recommendations on developing a CARICOM- wide common public health policy. This is expected to include proposals for joint procurement, including for the purchase of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment to help address the supply constraints presently being experienced. Consideration will also be given to sourcing additional medical personnel.

At the emergency summit, it was also agreed that heads would also consider, at a further meeting to be convened in two weeks’ time, a proposal for a protocol on re-opening borders which all CARICOM Member States would adhere to at the same time whenever such a decision is taken.

On food security, a CARICOM COVID-19 Agri-Food Risk Management Framework circulated to Member States following a recent meeting of Ministers of Agriculture is to be considered further by Heads in relation to the production and supply of food products.

They also agreed that proposals should be formulated that resulted in “a robust digital architecture for the region” covering e.governance, digital commerce, and public health particularly in relation to the coronavirus.

The statement indicated that Heads had also agreed to review the impact of coronavirus related measures relating to restrictions on the transport of people and goods by air and sea, with particular reference to the operations of the regional air carriers. It additionally indicated that recommendations for the regional body’s Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE), relating to threats to security during the pandemic would be reviewed.

Heads also called for the lifting of sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela on humanitarian grounds as a part of the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and described as “regrettable”, without mentioning the US by name, that “resources for the World Health Organisation were being threatened at a time when all must join in leading the fight against the pandemic”.

The CARICOM statement said that the Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr Joy St John, told the meeting that the Region “had done fairly well” in its response to the pandemic as result of the early implementation of measures which had helped to contain the virus. The regional body reported that she had recommended that Heads adopt a co-ordinated regional approach to the next phase of the virus.

Prior to the summit Mottley had said during a live television broadcast in Barbados that she had in her capacity as Chair of CARICOM, proposed that they “share ideas, share experiences” but also look at “the notion of a single domestic space” and what needed to be done to “truly to allow our sovereign boundaries to have a virtual reality…. while the legal sovereign boundaries remain”.

CARICOM she said, “probably will have to have a common public health protocol and common border policy” and could establish by expanding its “market of persons” an approach that would help sustain all those who live in the region.

All 15 CARICOM Member States participated in the emergency meeting as did the institution’s five Associate Members.