Posted by : Posted on : 02-Apr-2020

Solomon Islands and the impact coronvirus is having on the economy and likely health care delivery.

Rumours and false news stories that have been said to have circulated about the preventative measures in place are wrong, unnecessary and could lead to criminal charges in terms of existing provisions in the Penal Code, as read with the conditions outlined in the Declaration of Public Emergency.” (Frank Short)

The Solomon Islands is so far free from coronavirus due to the strict measures imposed by a ban on internal flights and the declaration last week of a State of Public Emergency.

Much success in keeping the country free of infectious disease is due the praiseworthy work of the Ministry of Health and Medical services together with the ‘front line’ personnel deployed at borders and working in the newly established quarantine centres.

Rumours and false news stories that have been said to have circulated about the preventative measures in place are wrong, unnecessary and could lead to criminal charges in terms of existing provisions in the Penal Code, as read with the conditions outlined in the Declaration of Public Emergency.

I would hope false news will stop in the interests of all faced with such a worrying pandemic.

There can be no false news about the way coronavirus has already led to the postponement of the Olympic Games, originally set for this summer in Tokyo.

The Olympic Games have now been re-scheduled till 23 July 2021.

The UN climate change talks that were to be held in Glasgow later this year have also been postponed till next year.

Any false news to the contrary will not help in trying to conceal the evidence that the global economy has entered recession.

Only this week the head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, said, “It is now clear that we have entered a recession – as bad as or worse than in 2009”

During her news briefing she also suggested that the length and depth of the recession depended on two things: containing the virus and having an effective, coordinated response to the crisis...

One cannot not say the Solomon Islands government does not have a coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis and is not committed to stopping the deadly disease from entering the Solomon Islands.

Comments made in an article published by the Solomon Times on Line referred specifically to the local economy and said, quote.

“The Solomon Islands government is looking towards a stimulus packages, which may only be a temporary fix for a deeper structural problem.

“The Solomon Islands economic base is narrow, very narrow – making it extremely vulnerable to external shocks. The current COVID-19 health crises will only deepen in months to come, and for a country such as the Solomon Islands no level of stimulus can keep the economy afloat should this pandemic prolong – from months to years.

“Already commodity prices have fallen as global market demand stalls, perhaps a prelude of things to come. We now live in a post COVID-19 era, where it cannot be business as usual.

“In more advanced economies the government will spend, lower interest rates, increase tax on certain brackets - plus many other fiscal and monetary tools at their disposal.

“For the Solomon Islands we certainly have the same tools, but perhaps not as sharp. Realistically an important first step is fiscal discipline – we need to reassess our priorities and commit to those that make economic sense.”

“The IMF has taken extraordinary measures in efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19, particularly the repercussions it will have on the global economy.

“On March 16 the international body said it “stands ready” to use its $1 trillion lending capacity to help countries around the world that are struggling with the humanitarian and economic impact of the novel coronavirus.”

This week it was announced that the management of the local Heritage Park Hotel had laid off between 80 to 100 of its workers due to the impact of coronavirus leading to cancellation of hotel reservations and no new arrivals.

Little wonder then that theThe Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce will survey its members about the impacts of Covid-19 on their operations.

The chamber's chief executive, Atenasi Ata, said the tourism industry has been worst hit by the restrictions.

But other businesses are also struggling and he says there is uncertainty about the future.

"But right now we are just, our focus is just about business experiences and making sure that they are being captured somewhere."

"So that government, all the relevant parties whether it is Finance (ministry), whether it is commerce and industry (ministry) [they] are taking note of the hardships they (businesses) are going through."

Koroi Hawkings writing for Radio New Zealand said today, quote:

“Pacific economies will suffer a sharp fall as resource prices collapse and tourism numbers plummet to zero, but their remoteness could provide something of a buffer in what a World Bank economist called a 'double-edged sword' effect.

“In its just-released economic update for East Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank painted a picture of a rapid contraction in countries whose economies are dependent on tourism - like Samoa, Fiji, and Cook Islands.

“Already, there have been mass lay-offs as resorts close and flights are cancelled. In Samoa and Fiji, the main international airports have shut down.

“In resource-dependent economies like Papua New Guinea, plummeting oil and gas prices are likely to see a collapse of government revenue, with the country tipping into recession.

"It is something unlike anything we have seen," said the bank's lead economist in the Pacific, David Gould, referring to the pandemic. "It is not the global financial crisis ... it is not a huge cyclone  ... it is really quite unique and quite historic in its impact.”

"This is really a paradigm shift for a lot us," he said.

“Most countries in the region are reliant on both grants and tourism, which are likely to shrink as people are both unable and unwilling to travel, and sources of grants and remittances also affected.

“With limited healthcare capacity, few social safety nets, and governments saddled with large debts, the impact of the financial situation could hurt, Dr Gould said, which could lead to larger economies needing to provide debt relief to the Pacific.

"Right now we are encouraging the private sector and bilaterals (donor partners) to think hard about deferring debt repayments at ... to allow countries to take these kinds of immediate measures to stimulate the economy," Dr Gould said.

"Not necessarily stimulate in terms of the traditional sense of increasing demand, but these cash payments just to keep workers with some money in their pocket to buy necessities," he said, "to give them a bit of breathing room."

“However, with few connections to the outside world outside of Australia and New Zealand, which have closed their borders to transit, Dr Gould said Pacific countries' isolation could provide something of a buffer.

"It's a double-edged sword I guess, for those countries that do have populations on outer islands where they are basically supporting themselves, the coronavirus, as long as it is not on the island that they are or in that village, they do have the capacity to continue to consume and live as they always have," Dr Gould said.

"The challenge I think, in these outer islands, is that if a case does show up…it is going to be very difficult to give them health assistance given their remoteness."

“Still, whatever the final extent of the impact of the coronavirus - much of which is still unknown - it is likely that significant assistance will probably be needed.

“Already, the World Bank has announced a $US14 billion finance package for both East Asia and the Pacific, which will help countries respond to Covid-19.

“The Asian Development Bank has also made similar announcements, and provided grants to several countries for their responses. Australia has also hinted at financial assistance in the aftermath.”

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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