SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) —"Perhaps the most crucial test in our lifetime is the Corona Virus and what we do now as a community matters more than ever," said Member of Parliament for the United People's Party the Honorable Grisha Heyliger-Marten, Monday.
"We must band together and pool our resources, intellectually, medically and economically, as this will determine what remains of St. Maarten when the dust is settled."
Heyliger-Marten is concerned about the management of information that is sent to the community. "I urge the Government to ensure that it speaks with one voice and makes clear decisions. I would like you to consider everyone, businesses, visitors and residents when making these decisions and let my people know what is going to happen ahead of time."
She said the four steps that have been given to explain to residents what to do in the event they have to self-quarantine needs to be expanded on to include things like how to get help if needed.
"It is not about if this happens, but when it happens, what are we telling our citizens to do. Let's be clear about this," said Heyliger-Marten. She is also concerned that the mediums used is not sufficient to reach the masses. "If this is about money, get assistance from the Government-owned companies. Not everyone uses Social Media. We need to plaster the place with information about what to do when and if it occurs. Print flyers and posters in English, Creole and Spanish.
Put information at Gas Stations, Pharmacies, and Supermarkets along with Bus Stops where people stand so they can get the information on what to do and where to go for help." To deal with the economic impact of COVID-19, this Government must put together a stimulus package for the businesses, large and small on the island. Considering that St. Maarten is a tourism-based destination, the taxi drivers and small entrepreneurs, who depend on visitor arrivals, stand to be significantly affected.
Heyliger-Marten is also questioning whether the Government "spoke to the hotels before imposing the ban to ensure consideration was given to guests inhouse. "How many people will need to return home within the few days window they were given, do we have a number," she asked.
She also asked about the restaurants, bars and other service partners in the hospitality industry and what efforts have been made to reach out to them. She said the Government should have already convened a meeting with the Central Bank on a strategy for economic recovery. It is time for serious action she warns while stating that the local and international banks must do their part to ensure that the citizens of St. Maarten receive some economic relief in the month's weeks and perhaps months ahead.
"We have continued to make business on our island cumbersome and no incentive for a situation like this has ever been considered. This pandemic (COVID-19) exposes the bottlenecks that are created by institutions such as the CFT which makes coming up with solutions for recovery nearly impossible.
Reports indicate that cancellations at hotels are as high as seventy per cent. At the same time, workers are concerned over whether they will have a job, just months after resuming work since the two-plus years' hiatus brought on by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Many have raised concern about the possibility of price gouging by some local supermarkets. MP Heyliger-Marten says she hopes that Government has a contingency plan in place to prevent this from happening.
"This virus will expose many shortcomings in our government apparatus and should teach us to stop doing the bare minimum for our people who elected us and should force us to get to work. We cannot afford to be reactive, as a proactive approach is needed now. Public transportation support is essential because of the thousands of people who access them daily." We must ensure they are taking precautions and actively do more to combat contamination in public service centers, at schools, and government offices, daily.
The ultimate goal she explained must be the protection of our people. "We must be mindful of the harsh reality also that the economy will take a devastating blow as a result of the Corona Virus. No one should have to remind us of this. After all, we are a country dependent on tourism. We have to start already thinking of the impact the decisions that we take, and we must have a plan for economic recovery, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 on St. Maarten.
“Ultimately, governments the world over, including St. Maarten can find ways to boost economic activity. But, no one can restore life to those we may lose if we are not vigilant in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The restoration of the economy is important, but our first priority must be the health and safety of our residents and visitors.”
"I want to encourage everyone to take all the necessary precautions for yourselves and families. I know that this is a scary time, but I would like to encourage you to remain focused. I pray God continues to protect the people of St. Maarten and take us through this difficult period. May God bless us all."