ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, March 21, 2020 (CMC) – The Grenada government has warned nationals to be prepared for “heightened measures, related to self-quarantine”, as it announced a series of economic and other measures, aimed at helping the island to limit the proliferation of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
In a radio and television broadcast, last night, Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, told the nation that while, so far, Grenada has not recorded any positive cases, related to the virus that was first detected in China, last December, and blamed for more than 8,000 deaths worldwide, “we know it is only a matter of time, given the introduction of the virus in our region, and its rapid spread around the world”.
“We must, therefore, continue with aggressive measures, designed to lessen the impact, when the virus does hit our shores,” he said, praising the various stakeholders, “who, selflessly, stand ready to execute their duties”, as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mitchell said that, as a result, for the next three months, in the first instance, the government will embark upon on a number of measures, including aiming to avoid staff lay-offs and the loss of livelihood in the tourism sector, by providing EC$20 million worth of payroll support to the hoteliers, restaurants, bars and small travel agents; and income support to public buses, taxi drivers, tourism vendors and other such identified hospitality-based businesses.
He added that the government will also adjust the small hoteliers’ facility, at the Grenada Development Bank, to support all hoteliers, by injecting an additional seven million EC dollars into this facility, and work with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to provide unemployment benefits support, initially-estimated at EC$10 million.
Mitchell continued, that the government would also suspend the two percent increase in NIS premiums for the period, and he encouraged the trade union movement to work with the business community to support the use of vacation leave, as a first option, in the event of businesses having to resort to skeleton-staff mode.
He said there are also plans to expand the public sector investment programs, in an effort to boost employment at the community level; as well as to suspend the monthly, advance payment on corporate income tax, for the period.
In addition, the government will suspend the installment payments on the Annual Stamp Tax, for the three month period, and expand the small business, soft-lending facility, at the Grenada Development Bank, by an additional five million EC dollars.
The government further announced, it would also place on the price control list, certain cleaning items, to prevent price-gouging at this time; and follow all necessary exemption protocols, to provide incentives to private labs and medical facilities, to procure items to support the fight against COVID-19.
He said that there would also be an increase in farm labour support, to immediately boost agricultural production, island-wide; and that consideration is being given to the support for farmers and fish exporters, who have recently been affected, as a result of international travel restrictions.
“Additionally, now that the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes Tribunal has delivered its ruling, in the arbitration between the government of Grenada and WRB, government commits to ensuring that the cost of electricity will be reduced by 30 percent, for the months of March, April and May, in the first instance, to all consumers.”
Mitchell said that the financial institutions have also agreed, in principle, to provide a moratorium on principal and interest payments to their clients, on condition, for the three-month period in question, in the first instance.
“Friends, the measures outlined, are intended to be preliminary, as we continue to work toward longer-term actions, as this crisis unfolds.”
Mitchell said that the government has taken a very aggressive, proactive approach in the fight against COVID-19, noting “by now, you would have seen, or received, many informational public service announcements — posters, text messages, television and radio commercials and hundreds of social media posts — from the government, encouraging, among other things, proper hygiene and providing regular updates on government’s efforts to protect Grenada from the contracting, and spread, of COVID-19”.
He said Grenada began to practice what’s termed as “social distancing”, last week, and “moving into this week, you would have seen constant updates on travel advisories, with restrictions for high-risk areas, such as the United Kingdom and the United States”.
“We are also currently moving to close our seaports for yachts and leisure boats, in the immediate period.
“Screening of passengers, allowed to enter Grenada, has been aggressive and sustained, at our ports of entry. In these coming days and weeks, you will continue to see heightened measures, related to self-quarantine; and when the virus is officially confirmed, here on Island – total isolation of confirmed cases,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that Grenada has carefully studied the lessons, learned from China and other countries, hardest hit by this virus.
“We have twinned those lessons with scientific data from the experts, which support our approach in fighting COVID-19. Scientific data shows that countries that have been best at managing the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, have done so, through a combination of testing, contact-tracing, public awareness campaigns and a commitment to abide by quarantines and social-distancing protocols.”
Mitchell said that border protection measures have also proven to be invaluable in this fight, and that he is grateful “to our friends and partners, who understand that, as a country—and more so, as a small island — we have no choice, but to do all we can to safeguard our shores”.
Mitchell warned that the island’s progress to date, and its continued progress, “will depend on our collective commitment to keeping Grenadians healthy, for we are all in this together.
“Even with all this, the global crisis that is COVID-19, also comes at a tremendous financial and economic cost for citizens, the business community and government, alike. We understand the anxiety for individuals, families and communities.”
Mitchell said that even as his government continues to explore various avenues to ease the anxiety of citizens, and while it anticipates that the private sector will meet payroll obligations at the end of this month, “we must push forward, with some preliminary concrete measures that are designed, in the interim, to infuse some form of positive financial and mental impact on workers, businesses, and our socially-vulnerable nation”.