The Impact of Covid-19 on Barbados
The world’s most populous country, and the nation with the first confirmed case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID – 19), China, has one of the lowest infection rates globally (62 per million people) (COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic). COVID – 19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, which attacks the cells of an individual’s respiratory system and makes it difficult for them to breathe. If their immune system cannot fight back effectively, the lungs, liver, and kidneys begin to shut down and stop working due to a lack of oxygen, and the individual subsequently dies (WebMD). At the time of writing, the virus has infected more than 92 million people and killed nearly 2 million globally (Coronavirus History); (COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic); (Coronavirus). Simultaneously impacted, Barbados has so far seen over 1,000 infectious cases and seven deaths (COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic). Some preventative methods used to slow its transmission are as follows: frequent hand sanitizing, the wearing of a face mask to cover one’s mouth and nose, and physically distancing oneself away from others (Coronavirus). High unemployment, people changing their spending habits, increasing incidence of mental health illnesses, and an increasing reliance on the government by individuals to meet their daily needs; are some impacts of the disease. COVID – 19 is having a devastating economic impact on the lives of Barbadians.
In Barbados, to slow the transmission of the virus, there are restrictions on business operations, which have forced many businesses to either temporally or permanently close; consequently, unemployment is high. Furthermore, lockdowns and travel restrictions in other countries are severely limiting the number of tourist arrivals; hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses are struggling. There are mass layoffs of employees, especially in the hotel sector, and taxi fares have dried up. In July 2020, the estimated unemployment rate was 40 percent, compared with about 9.5 percent the previous July (Madden); (Central Bank of Barbados).
Sharp reductions or complete loss of income because of unemployment is causing Barbadians’ spending habits to change. People who no longer have jobs cannot afford to spend as much money as they usually do and have become more frugal. Store owners saw a significant decline in sales over the traditionally busy Christmas season compared with previous years. Furthermore, people are now buying goods in bulk packages to save money. For example, they might purchase toilet tissue in bulk as it cost less to buy a bulk package of 40 rolls than to get individual rolls.
Many people who had good jobs and steady incomes now struggle to meet their family’s daily needs; consequently, there are many more reported cases of depression and other mental health illnesses. Roger McIntyre, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, described the pandemic as: “The greatest mental health assault on the general population ever recorded in humanity.” (Yousif) Unemployed people who have relatively little savings are 50 percent more likely to suffer from depression than wealthier individuals (Ducharme). Additionally, social distancing measures aggravate many incidences of loneliness, as individuals self-isolate from family and friends to prevent disease spread. For instance, people in nursing homes are unable to receive visits from their loved ones, which without a doubt, is taking a toll on their psyche. Loneliness can lead to depression and other mental illnesses; lonely people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 1.64 times more likely to develop dementia (Campbell). People are turning to anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants to cope with the changes in their mental health.
The most devastating economic impact of COVID – 19 is that many Barbadians cannot meet their daily needs and are financially dependent on the government. Between March 23, 2020, and October 16, 2020, the National Insurance Scheme paid over $123.2 million in unemployment benefits on more than 32,003 unemployment claims, compared with a combined $119.9 million for the entirety of 2017, 2018, and 2019 (Madden). Additionally, social services provided by the government are also in higher demand. For instance, last March, a crowd turned up at the National Assistance Board seeking to collect welfare cheques and food vouchers (Nation Publishing Co. Limited). Moreover, 16,000 families have applied for assistance under the government’s Adopt a Family Programme, which assists the most vulnerable families in these difficult economic times by providing them with monthly cheques of $600 (The Barbados Advocate).
In summary, COVID – 19 is an immense financial burden on Barbadians and results in the following: rising unemployment, changing spending habits, mental health illnesses, and an increasing reliance on the government for financial support. Hopefully, Barbados will soon receive enough vaccines to inoculate the majority of the population. These vaccines will help put the country on track to return to normal; accordingly, people’s economic situation will improve – COVID – 19 will soon be a distant memory.