COVID in the Caribbean

CIJN writers fanned out across the region–Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, British Virgin Islands,– to show how people in Caribbean nations were battling the coronavirus, fighting for their lives and economic survival.

No borders can repel COVID-19. When 52-year-old Ratna Baboolall left her home in Queens, N.Y. for a trip to her native Guyana, she unknowingly carried the virus to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where she was in transit to her village 15 minutes from Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. Before she died of the virus, she had sickened at least eight relatives, including her 59-year-old husband Ramnauth Baboolall, her two sons, two sisters, one niece, her son-in-law and one of her granddaughters. CIJN reporters tell the story of Guyana’s Patient Zero. In separate reports, they detail how, thanks to the virus, the people of Guyana have had to postpone their hopes that newfound oil riches would improve their standard of living and help Guyana shed its status as one of the poorest countries in South America. Many businesses, which had hoped to boom, are now shuttered temporarily or for good.

Caribbean people are known for their resilience and creativity. Those two traits are on display throughout the islands. If your island is heavily dependent on people from around the world getting on planes to vacation in your tropical paradise, what are your options when airplane traffic has ground to a halt. If you’re Bajan Prime Minister Mia Mottley, you develop a plan to invite tele-commuters, or work-at-home employees, to work from Barbados for the next year. Her pitch: why work in the United States, Europe and Latin America when you can work in the tropical breezes in the birthplace of Rihanna.

The people of the British Virgin Islands owe their survival to their own resilience. As they battle encroachment of the coronavirus, they are also preparing for the hurricane season–with the scars of recent deadly hurricanes fresh in their memories. Their big dilemma: how to practice social distancing if you are stuck in a hurricane shelter with hundreds of huddled hurricane victims.

In the BVI, Filipino expatriate workers have had to rely on bayanihan, their national spirit of kindness, work and cooperation to make the best of job losses and their diminishing options.

Pandemic-era Dip in Childhood Vax Rates Sparks Concern

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Caribbean had a vaccination problem. About 10 years ago, childhood immunisation rates began to slip below the World Health Organisation’s recommended 95 percent, leaving the region vulnerable to a potential re-emergence of deadly diseases like polio, measles or mumps. When the pandemic hit, those rates plummeted further in many countries. “If you look at the Caribbean as a whole, we find that of the more than 11,000 children younger than one year who live in the Caribbean, almost one in ten did not receive all of their vaccine doses,” Dr. Margherita Ghiselli, an immunisation advisor with the Pan American Health Organisation, told the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network during a virtual PAHO media briefing in April. Much of the rest of the Americas faces a similar predicament, which health officials often blame on a Covid double-whammy: First, movement restrictions during the pandemic limited access to routine medical care; and second, misinformation associated with the Covid shot has made people more reluctant to trust any vaccine.

I Choose Death

The sting of death all around him had Roger in grief and anxious about how he would cope should he contract COVID-19. Watching some of his fellow dialysis patients’ come down with the disease and never return from hospital made him fearful. But fear and anxiety were not enough to make him take the jab. Roger Briggs says he would rather die from COVID-19 than take the vaccines.  Already battling diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease, he was ready to take on the virus. 

Driven by fears over the rapid development of the vaccines, he does not trust that they were tested sufficiently, and believes there isn’t sufficient data or science to ensure their safety. 

A husband and father of four children and eight grandchildren, Roger will not take the vaccine that could protect his life.  “To what end?” he asks.