Some 77,000 people in Trinidad and Tobago live alone and the psycho-social impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on them needs to be quantified.
This was the advice of The University of the West Indies economics lecturer, Dr Marlene Attz, at a virtual symposium on the impact of COVID-19 on health systems, organised by the UWI Faculty of Medical Sciences yesterday.
Several other speakers delivered sobering presentations on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.
They included Dr Sandra Reid, who spoke on physical distancing and socialisation in the future, and Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul, on the implications for food security.
Speaking on the socio-economic impact of the virus, Attz said secondary impacts like these also needed to be quantified to shape a better response to rebuilding the country.
Speaking on the direct economic impact, she began by warning of a tripling of T&T’s budget deficit because of governments in T&T and the Caribbean spending on measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 but earning significantly less in their economic spaces.
“There is lower economic activity and declining economic growth and higher levels of unemployment,” she said.
Warning that food security can be compromised, she said there is going to be disruption in the food supply chains, adding that some 50 per cent of the imported food and products for the food manufacturing sector come from China, the United States and Europe.
She said while this is not unique to T&T, this country has a dual challenge in some sense because, apart from the very costly COVID-19 response, there is also a sharp decline in terms of oil and gas prices.
The decline in the importation and exportation of food and the number of people who became unemployed because of the closure of certain types of businesses can be easily calculated, she said.
Attz said, however, data on the impact of small businesses, which are particularly challenged, is sporadic and the direct impact may not be immediately quantifiable.
She said millions had already been spent on social programmes in Trinidad and Tobago to provide a buffer for the most vulnerable.
On the secondary economic impacts, she said COVID-19 has shown the fault lines in systems, with the lockdown exposing inequalities in societies in the Caribbean.
For instance, advisories about social distancing and regular hand washing assume people live in spaces where they can practice social distancing and have water to wash their hands.
There is also the assumption that some people can survive a lockdown.
But there are many who are the sole breadwinners in their families who may not have been able to go to work because the business was temporarily closed.
Access to education is another inequality, she said.
“I am very concerned about the disruption of education at all levels and the assumption that all people can seamlessly transition from face to face to online platforms,” she added.
Referring to a presentation by Dr Sandra Reid, from the Psychology Department at the UWI, she spoke about the mental impact of the lockdown on people.
She said Dr Reid spoke about increased substance abuse, anxiety, depression.
Attz also addressed the issue of increased crime, in particular domestic violence and home larcenies.