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COVID-19 Xray Crystallographic Examination of VI Economic Ills

Edgar Leonard. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

As the rest of the Caribbean region and in the spring of 2020, Coronavirus (COVID-19), a deadly global pandemic, struck the [British] Virgin Islands (VI), instilling fear among residents and changing lives, livelihoods, and circumstances.

The opportunistic and deadly virus infected thousands, prematurely snuffed out approximately 37 precious lives, slowed tourism, one-half of the economic twin pillars to a crawl; and other economic sectors, reduced gross domestic product (GDP), drove layoffs and increased unemployment, forced the government to provide economic stimulus to individuals and businesses, among other hardships.

In addition to the noted adverse impacts, COVID-19 has also revealed and exposed the fragility and weakness of VI's economic structure, especially its heavy dependence on the tourism sector. Tourism is one-half of the economic twin pillars; financial services, the other. Though financial services provide over 50 percent of government revenue, tourism generates more direct, indirect, and induced employment.

X-ray Crystallography

Scientists use x-ray crystallography technology that is supposedly stronger than powerful microscopes to take images of viruses' structures. Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, in Good Economics for Hard Times, noted that the method was employed to develop a vaccine for the RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) that provided the template for creating the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Moreover, in addition to its devastating health, safety, and social challenges, COVID-19 also metaphorically provided an x-ray crystallographic examination of the VI's economic structure and ills.

Economic Sectors

The VI, a small (36 islands, 59 square miles) and resource-poor territory, lacked the natural resources, i.e., agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, among other resources, to develop either a primary economy (extraction of resources) or a secondary economy, i.e., manufacturing resources extracted in the primary sector. Its primary economy is tertiary or service-based; tourism and financial services are the twin pillars of the economy.

At emancipation on August 1, 1834, and immediately after, the VI economy comprised mostly agriculture, a vulnerable economic sector. Then starting in the mid-60s, the territory started the transition from subsistence agriculture to tourism, another highly vulnerable economic industry. Though tourism generates more employment than its economic twin pillar, financial services, it is highly fragile and vulnerable, as COVID-19 demonstrated, laid bare and exposed. Vulnerabilities include climate change, natural disasters (hurricanes), epidemics, crime, external economic downturns, among other factors.

Other territorial vulnerabilities include small population, trade dependency, food price volatility, heavy imports, external shocks, lack of energy sustainability, remoteness from major markets, and limited economic diversity. Moreover, the government, by necessity, is a significant workforce employer.

Economic Diversification & Structural Transformation

COVID-19 x-ray crystallographic examination exposed the structural weakness and lack of diversity in the VI economy. Consequently, along with strengthening and deepening tourism and financial services, work on diversifying the economy is critical and needs to be urgently started. Economic diversification includes a) reduce vulnerability to external shocks, b) manage and provide the path for more equitable economic growth and development, c) increase the number of skillsets, jobs, and quality of jobs, d) build resiliency and sustainability into the economy, e) shift from single income stream to multiple streams from a range of sectors and markets, f) create more small business opportunities and so on.

The key to economic diversification is a full-throated embrace of technology and a highly educated and trained population/workforce. These requirements are critical and essential for leaping into the quaternary (intellectual or knowledge-based) and quinary sectors of the tertiary or service economy. Moreover, exploring the potentials of the 'Blue Economy' is a good start towards diversifying the economy.

13 Responses to “COVID-19 Xray Crystallographic Examination of VI Economic Ills”

  • one eye (24/09/2021, 09:50) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Another good read
  • what (24/09/2021, 12:39) Like (0) Dislike (3) Reply
    What does the first paragraph mean?
  • Political Observer (PO) (24/09/2021, 14:32) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    A good read and hope that government leaders, NGOs, institutions are actively reading. A key point was the focus on technology and education and training as the way forward. Two thumbs up on the focus. Nonetheless, at the beginning, I stumbled wondering what is X-ray crystallography and what it got to do with the BVI economy. However, on further reading the light came on. Got it. Covid-19 is being used metaphorically as an x-ray (X-ray Crystallography) that revealed the structural weaknesses of the BVI economy. Indeed, the BVI economy needs to be diversified.
  • Yes (24/09/2021, 15:50) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    And expat travelled out before that was locked out
    • @yes (24/09/2021, 17:29) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
      Not only expats were locked out Virgin Islanders were locked out too. Also all over the world people were stranded. You all must stop being so disgruntled as if only expat is going through hardships.
    • @yes (24/09/2021, 20:27) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      And to expats being locked out also add lockdowns, curfews, quarantine, travel restriction…etc. What is the point ?
  • Ne Timeas (24/09/2021, 18:56) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, good read. Most BVI
  • Ne Timeas (24/09/2021, 19:34) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, excellent read. Nevertheless, increasingly, many BVI residents are not consuming news or acquiring information by reading, joining a growing trend around the world. Consequently, this commentary is not going to get widely read. Curiously, when is the Road Town Central Library (or Learning Resource Center) going to get relaunched? Why is there not more fuss about there not being a central library?

    Moreover, for decades many BVI residents have been hollering loudly from Sage Mountain that the BVI economy is structurally fragile, weak and unsound. Politicians and others blow a large volume of hot air about it and nothing seems to get done. Now, along came Covid, it tore the scab off the simmering wound, exposing the hard truth about the economy. Is Covid the Waterloo, the turning point, the inflection point that in earnest will jump start action on diversifying the economy? The BVI has travelled farther than most other small countries yet it is a disappointment. Everything in the BVI seemed hitched to the reactive train. When is the proactive train leaving the station? The populace must get aboard and make it happen; they must serve as conductors. Most politicians are only nterested in the power, social status (just the other day one was talking out of school buh politicians don’t get any respect. Here is a news flash. Respect is not bought; it must be earned through hard work) and influence.
  • Covid Vacs (24/09/2021, 21:00) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    If X-ray crystallography was instrumental in developing a vaccine for RSV that was used as a template for Pfizer and Moderna. Then Covid vaccines development didn’t start with a blank slate. Some vaccine hesitancy is rooted in the belief that they happened too quickly, lacking the timely research and development and test and evaluation. Was the evidence not always out there that development didn’t start from a blank skate. And if so why the misinformation and disinformation was permitted to take root or flight. Nonetheless, whether the vaccines were developed from a blank slate or with a head start from prior research, IMO they are effective and safe. Most of the people currently being hospitalized or dying from Covid are unvaccinated. And even vaccinated people that catch the virus are not getting as sick. In regards to the article,Covid should have taught lessons about the health and safety of pandemics and their impact on economies. The pandemic should have taught us that the life, processes that we take for normal can be easily disrupted. The pandemic is forcing us to search for other supposed mythical normals. One thing is for sure the old normals are history.
  • LCS (25/09/2021, 07:57) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    IMHO, X-ray crystallography started with Irma & Maria in 2017.
    • Eagle and Buffalo (25/09/2021, 13:40) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      @LCS, agree. If the BVI had doubts before in regards to the fragility and weakness of mono-economy, monster hurricanes Irma and Maria should have been a wake up and clear evidence that the economy needed to be urgently diversified. Generations of BVIslanders had not experienced a direct hit from a hurricane. Irma demonstrated how destructive a hurricane(s) can be. Irma was destructive; it directly took four lives (and the shock of the destruction may have taken more ) and $M of in physical facility and infrastructure damages to residential, government facilities, business and institutional property. The BVI is still recovering from the monster storms of September 2017. However, not much effort is being employed to diversify the economy.
  • RealPol (26/09/2021, 05:11) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    It is clear as mud that the VI (British) economic platforms are fragile and weak and needs to be diversified. As a community, we acknowledged that it is. We keep talking endlessly about it, beating it like a dead horse but nothing happens. As a reminder, disaster after disaster, ie, Hurricane Irma, Covid-19....etc remind us there is a serious problem. Additionally, economic downturns in feeder markets/destinations also expose the weakness and the urgent need to do something.

    However, as Emperor Nero twiddled his thumb (played his violin) while Rome burned, so too is the VI sitting idly around waiting for something magical to happen to start the process of diversifying the economy. Virgin Islanders, here is a news flash. Nothing magical is going to happen; there is no magical wand to wave and voila the economy is diversified. It is going to take planning, be a heavy lift and hardwork. It requires a moon shot action.

    As Leonard noted, the opening act will take a full-throated embrace of technology, along with robust education and training. The education and training and economic development folks need to collaborate. And now. The VI cannot wait for another disaster or crisis to strike to remind us that there is a problem. Road Town, we have a problem. Fix it, Fix it and Fix it. Tired of hearing the ground noise. The show horses need to go siddung on this issue; we need strong, tireless, and indefatigable workhorses. Let’s not wait for an altogether collapse of the system.
    • Disinterested (26/09/2021, 08:57) Like (2) Dislike (1) Reply
      BVI, meh son leh us geh uh dun. Let us get it done. Either way, it must be done and soonest. The time for talking, for debating, for wringing of hands and for kicking the can down the road is over. Covid reinforced that there is a problem and hopefully will soon be in the rear view mirror but without serious action the economic fault lines will remain.

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