Anguilla is a typical small island developing state. We have a tiny population of twelve thousand persons. But we are required to provide most of the basic services for our people that large states do. We have the same number of people as a small village in the UK or Nigeria. But we are obliged to have a similar infrastructure as London or Abouja, including police, customs, and immigration departments. While the world’s economy was booming, we were easily able to pay for this luxury.
When the international leisure industry was at its peak, we could pick up the crumbs to meet our public administration bills. Before terrorism and money laundering became a world-wide issue, we could provide liberal financial services to the international community, and cream off some of the wealth to cover our government costs. That has all changed now.
Unlike the islands around us, Anguilla has managed to stay Covid-free since the first 3 cases in March 2020. We have done this by imposing strict quarantine and border control regulations. So long as we maintain quarantine regulations and border closure, we can be relatively confident that we will remain safe. At present, we insist that anyone arriving must quarantine, initially at government’s expense, in a secure location for between 10 and 14 days, depending on whether they come from a relatively Covid-free country or not. They must also pay a charge to cover the cost of their quarantine and the ancillary services, such as food and security personnel. But, with the economy collapsing, the good sense of these regulations is now being questioned.
From what I hear, hotel guests are cancelling their reservations for the 2020/2021 winter season. As a result, it seems to me that most of the major hotels of Anguilla will be obliged to shutter for the season. Restaurants, water sports companies, car rentals, holiday apartments, and other tourism-related businesses will be forced to close. The excuse being given by some cancelling guests is that Anguilla’s quarantine restrictions prohibit their arrival on our shores. They say they are going to spend the winter instead in Antigua and Saint Lucia. There, they say, the Covid-19 regulations are much laxer. We will have to wait and see. Personally, I very much doubt there will be much tourism to Antigua or St Lucia in the coming 2020/2021 season. Reservations in October do not automatically equate to warm beds in December.
Unemployment increases daily. The hotels, especially the foreign-owned ones on Anguilla’s coastline, are now pressuring government to open. We read that they accuse us of being unreasonable in our quarantine regulations. They loudly proclaim in the press, and on TV, and radio that it is government’s fault that staff are being fired. They say that, if only the quarantine regulations were slackened to be the same as Antigua and St Lucia, the staff would all be back at work.
This is all nonsense, of course. Any thinking person who keeps up with the international news knows the truth. It does not matter if every quarantine restriction is removed. Few visitors will come to the Caribbean this winter. Only the most reckless US or European traveller, careless of his or her health, will visit us for a holiday.
There is the problem with air lift. We read that the world’s major airlines are mothballing their planes and laying off their staff. Air France, Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, each are applying for tens of billions of dollars from their governments to help them keep afloat. They will likely not get it since there is no more money. The cruise lines have all laid up their ships. It is not likely they will get any more bail outs. It seems to me that it will take another decade, if ever, for them to recover.
The bottom line is the leisure travel industry as we knew it pre-2020 is dead. Few international travellers will be arriving on any Caribbean shores. In my crystal ball, I see a full one half of the luxury hotels of Anguilla abandoned. There will be palm trees growing out of their windows before long. Most of the luxury restaurants will have sold their pots and pans and shut for good. No more caviar and champagne. From now on, we dine out on johnny cake and corned beef. We must find other ways than tourism to occupy our time and earn an income. And none of it will be due to the strict quarantine regulations now in force.
Perhaps most ominous for Anguilla’s economy, a recent report in the newspaper indicates that government’s revenue from taxes and licences is less than half what was budgeted for this year. This revenue is needed to pay our bloated public service their salaries and other emoluments. The situation is not sustainable. Something has got to give. Logically, with only half the revenue, we must cut our costs by a half. Either we let go half of the public service, or they all stay on, but at half of their salaries.
Even with cost-cutting, the Anguilla as we know it is not sustainable. The nanny-state that Anguilla aspired to be in the good times is now out of our reach. We cannot afford any more subsidised education, health care, or social services. These will shortly have to be met by user fees. We must cease paying the cost of hospitalising in Panama our gunshot gangster youth. These social services will soon be a thing of the past. We just have not realized it yet. And it is nothing to do with the strict quarantine and border control regulations.
Then, there is the possibility of coming international political and economic instability. Trump has threatened that he is not going to leave the White House in January. If civil disturbances break out in the United States this winter, there will be no airlines flying out of Kennedy or Miami International Airport to the Caribbean, even without the pandemic.
It may not happen on election day, November 3, or on December 14 when the Electoral College meets. But, if by January 21, Inauguration Day, there is turmoil all over the United States, there will likely be no leisure travel from the US to the Caribbean. If this occurs, we cannot blame either Covid or the British for the resulting economic catastrophe.
Then, there is natural traveller caution. Covid-19 spreads fastest through the air in confined spaces. In early 2020 at the start of the epidemic, cruise ships were centres of infection. They are all laid up now. I expect that, with a few foolhardy exceptions, they will not resume their cruise schedules until 2022.
Everything depends on the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. The epidemiologists have explained why one will not be approved until early in 2021. Even then, it will not be widely available to us until mid- to late-2021. Without being vaccinated, no sensible person will choose to go on holiday overseas by sea or by air.
Meanwhile, doubts and confusion about vaccinations are being spread by anti-vaxxers and other conspiracy theorists. These operate both locally and internationally. Recent surveys in the USA and Europe reveal that the result is that, even when a vaccine does become available, it will not quickly be taken up by everyone. It may take years for most of the public to enjoy the benefits of vaccination. Which one of us is going to be so negligent as to travel unvaccinated to a foreign country with medical services of an unknown quality for a holiday, amid a pandemic? Even if Anguilla opened promiscuously, abandoning all health precautions, I do not believe that a single additional passenger will risk arriving on our shores at this time.
The conspiracy theorists are not helping. Anguilla’s more racist conspiracy theorists are now filling the airwaves with dire warnings. To hear their panicked voices, the UK public health system is putting pressure on Anguilla to shut our borders. They express certainty that the white British are out to punish poor little black us. Quite why the British would want to do such a thing to Anguilla is anyone’s guess. But anti-British feeling, fuelled by a pernicious and ingrained racism, is prevalent among certain elements in our society. As if the British have the slightest interest in causing Anguilla any harm! They would probably have to pay to bail us out of it in the end, anyway. But, there never had to be any good reason for conspiracy theories to flourish in the best of times.
Anguillians must face a new reality. Nothing will be the same when this pandemic is over. Public services will be pared down to a minimum. The days when the Anguilla public service was used as a sponge to mop up the unemployed and the unemployable are over. We can no longer afford to employ five persons to do the job of one as we presently do.
There is the little matter of our failure to enforce our own tax laws. No enforcement proceedings have ever, to my knowledge, been brought against a single tax defaulter in the modern history of Anguilla. We can no longer afford to continue forgiving persons who neglect to pay their taxes, as we have done for decades past. If we do, why should any foreign taxpayer contribute to our self-created folly.
One last prediction. The next time our government appeals to the British government for another hundred-million-dollar bail out, we will finally lose our entitlement state of mind. The British deficit is presently about £300 billion. I see the British PM responding to our Premier with these words, “Colonialism has been over for a long time. We have looked at the books. It appears that Anguilla has never in its history contributed anything to the British Treasury. Do you not think it is about time that you helped us with our fiscal deficit? We were thinking of a token contribution from you in the region of ten million US dollars. How about it?”
If my cautionary words appear exaggerated to some, hopefully they will serve to counterbalance the ridiculous claim that our health quarantine regime has been imposed on our government by an oppressive and uncaring British government.