COVID-19 has dealt some harsh blows, not only to the people infected by the disease but to the hundreds of others who have suffered severe financial pain because of pandemic restrictions.
The latest round of lockdowns has meant an instant loss of income for employees in the non-essential business sector that will remain closed until at least May 23.
These are the people who would have been anxiously waiting to hear the announcement from Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday about another round of COVID-19 relief.
The $30 million allocated to ease hardships as the coronavirus takes another deadly turn across the country will provide a grant of $1,500 for those who lost their jobs at the start of the month and $1,000 for those who lost their jobs in the last few days as new restrictions took effect. It is estimated some 20,000 workers will benefit from this.
Whether these initiatives go far enough to help those most deserving remains to be seen. But after the $6 billion spent on a suite of support services when the pandemic was taking hold last year, there is much less to go around this time.
Beneficiaries then included businesses that collected outstanding VAT refunds and through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, recipients of food and cash support cards, rental assistance, food vouchers and hampers among a range of measures.
But the salary relief of $1,500 for up to three months provided then is not available now, as the country’s economic circumstances are much worse.
Minister Imbert, who is expected to deliver his mid-term budget review shortly, was reluctant to provide any insight into the country’s economic state during yesterday’s media briefing. However, it is expected there will not be much in the way of good news when he gives that fiscal update.
The losses have been accumulating across various sectors during the three waves of infection that have swept across T&T. The shutdowns of productive sectors have inflicted crippling economic distress on businesses.
The economic indicators don’t look promising. The budget deficit for fiscal 2020 is projected to have increased significantly to 11 per cent of GDP, more than quadrupling the deficit of 2.5 per cent of GDP in the previous fiscal year. Total revenue fell to 23 per cent, due in large part to a reduction of energy revenue from 10 per cent to 5 per cent of GDP.
In the circumstances then, it is possible to extend support only to those in dire financial straits, so it would not be fair to draw any comparisons between these latest offerings and what was provided last year. There is much less to go around although there are many more in need.
But even as the country attempts to ride out this latest COVID-19 onslaught, it is time to start preparing citizens for the post-pandemic recovery period.
Little has been heard recently about the work of the Roadmap to Recovery Committee appointed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. With so much doom and gloom all around, the country needs some encouraging words about the way forward.