2020 was a tough year unlike any other. With global cases currently crossing 80.8 million, the COVID-19 pandemic and the magnitude of its impact has changed life as we know it. Mask-wearing and constant sanitizing have now become a part of our everyday routines but looking back, the journey to this point of accepting our ‘new normal’ has been a rough one.
Due to social distancing restrictions, government mandates and an initial sense of fear from the general public, COVID-19 has undeniably changed the way that we do business. Unable to survive the extended lockdown period, many businesses closed their doors for good, while some braved the challenge, sending workers home and incurring mountains of debt. The bread and butter of many Caribbean countries, the tourism sector, suffered the most from the closure of borders across the region, as a method of preventing the spread of the virus.
Corporate entities fortunate enough to successfully weather the COVID-19 storm used their resources to help those most negatively affected during the pandemic. Through various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, companies including Sagicor, Republic Bank, Bmobile and National Gas Company generously donated hampers, laptops, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other necessities.
Other businesses, including Media InSite Ltd, relied on digital transformations to continue their services. These companies took their business operations online, invested in e-commerce applications, allowed staff members to work from home, implemented curbside pick-up and contactless delivery and relied on their online platforms for communicating with customers. The results: reduced employer expenses, a satisfied workforce with higher productivity and fulfilled business objectives.
With the reopening of the Caribbean at the start of June, previously closed businesses put mask mandates and sanitization measures in place to ensure a safe environment for returning customers. This ‘new normal’, as uncomfortable as it may seem, is here to stay so it is up to us to make the most of it.
In terms of education, the pandemic has shifted the focus from the traditional classroom to e-learning. Tertiary level students especially have welcomed this move, which has saved them money from hall fees and travelling to school and resulted in more flexible payment plans from universities. Unfortunately, some of them were unable to continue due to the lack of access to the necessary technology and WiFi. But primary school students have struggled the most with this new arrangement. Their hefty workload and limited attention span combined with the need for constant supervision by their parents, who are also working from home, has resulted in burn out for all parties involved. Hopefully, the Ministry of Education can put proper procedures in place to remedy the situation soon.
Even our celebrations this year were affected by COVID-19. T&T and a few other islands were fortunate to have hosted their Carnival festivities right before the lockdown period while countries including Jamaica, Grenada and Barbados had to cancel theirs. Easter, Independence Day, Divali and Christmas celebrations were all adapted to fit the pandemic restrictions this year, much to the displeasure of many. Local events like the First Citizens Poetry Slam, NGC Bocas Lit Fest and concerts were held virtually or televised in an effort to keep the interest in them alive. With borders still closed in T&T and strictly regulated in other Caribbean islands, even Christmas was not the same with many still stranded abroad.
While life as we know it has changed indefinitely, there are signs that the situation is improving. COVID-19 no longer continues to dominate the news with death and despair. Instead, we can look forward to the continued rollout of the Pfizer, Moderna & other vaccines, reports of lower cases of infections and continued testing and monitoring of the virus. 2020 has tested and proven our resilience so let’s approach 2021 with renewed confidence and hope to win the fight against COVID-19 in the new year.