COVID-19 disruption and response in the Caribbean

The story from Trevor from Jamaica shows how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the citizen from the Caribbean Small Island Developing States and how UNESCO helps to tackle the challenges arising from the crisis in Education, Culture, the Sciences and Communication and Information.

By mid march, the risk of coronavirus outbreaks in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States, SIDS,  has been increased from ‘low’ to ‘moderate to high’ by the Caribbean Health Authority. This is due to the rising number of reported cases, such as 112 cases in the Dominican Republic. Positive cases were also reported on smaller islands such as St. Lucia and Sint Maarten. Regional governments are focusing on preventive measures, such as quarantine procedures, the “stay-at-home”-policy, limiting public gatherings to a maxmium amount of people and the trending practice of “social distancing” which advises people to keep physical distance about 3 feet (1 meter) from others, or other restrictions on travellers entering the region from countries with a high risk of contamination. Most Caribbean countries have shut down the air and sea traffic completely.

“We likkle but wi tallawah”

A common saying in Jamaica that means “we’re a small nation but we’re strong-willed, we’re determined, and we refuse to be restrained by the boundaries of our small island”.

Jamaica has a population of 2,720,554 people, with a total number of functioning beds in the adult intensive care unit is about 30, which is about one bed per 100,000 inhabitants. However, the government was able to pull up 316 additional beds designated for COVID-19 response wards. There are about 2500 test kits in the country.

People seem to have taken the government policy of “social distancing” very seriously. The normally bustling streets of downtown, Kingston’s former business district, where local fruit and vegetable vendors cluster around Kingston’s local “Coronation Market”, where one usually finds an enchanting chaos between the smell of fish, the cries of barkers and the horns of crowded street taxis and run-down public buses, seem almost extinct.

A coconut seller sits next to a large bottle of hand disinfectant and carefully cuts the fruit open with protective gloves.

“We have to keep coming back even though we all know the virus is out there. That’s why we keep safe now, I always have my disinfectant handy and we don’t stay close together anymore, but we have to sell, it’s our life.”

COVID-19 disrupts Education in the Caribbean SIDS

Trevor lives with his family in Harbour View near Bull Bay, Jamaica. His entire community with its approximately 14,000 residents has been quarantined since the first COVID-19 test was found positive in this area. Trevor and is wife Shanice are working from home since the offices and schools are closed. Additionally, they have to share the responsibility of home-schooling their three children, which results in a double burden for them despite the crisis.

“Our government has reacted quickly and restricted social life and closed down schools and universities, which I believe was necessary to contain the spread so that we can return to our daily lives and duties in the near future. However, I fear that my children will miss out in education during that time. It is hard to support them at all times while we are home, because we still have to telework.”

Trevor, Jamaica, father of three children

In addition to the arising job uncertainties in the Caribbean, especially in tourism, one of the region’s biggest economic sector, cases of victims of physical violence or social exclusion due to suspicion that they may suffer from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have increased.

UNESCO calls to end fake news, stigma and discrimination

The crisis shows that the fight against racism and xenophobia is more vital than ever.

UNESCO is committed to a climate of tolerance and peace in times of emergencies and at all times. With its social media campaign, the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean is raising awareness of the fake news around the coronavirus pandemic and the growing threat of ignorance and racial discrimination. Unity, solidarity and non-discrimination must be the guiding principles for all action. In times of confinement, it is even more important to reach out to others, to fight stigmatisation and discrimination of any kind.