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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley chairs the first meeting of the team appointed to develop the COVID-19 Road Map to Recovery for Trinidad and Tobago yesterday.

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A situation beyond that imagined in a nightmare.

This was the reaction of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley after he learnt of the dramatic drop in US oil prices while at the first meeting of Trinidad and Tobago’s Road Map to Recovery team yesterday.

“I also want to tell you, there’s been no time like this and even in a bad dream we couldn’t anticipate this. … I knew when I came in here the price of oil was $5 a barrel WTI. It has just gone to one dollar. Ladies and gentlemen, one dollar a barrel per oil did not exist in my adult life,” Rowley said during his address at the meeting.

The Prime Minister pointed out that according to the World Bank’s Semi-Annual Report on the Latin America and Caribbean Region, Trinidad and Tobago was more prepared for the crisis than most of its Caribbean counterparts. He, however, stressed that proper planning for life after COVID-19 needed to be thoroughly considered.

“Trinidad and Tobago must now plan for its post peak COVID-19 future within the confines of the ‘new normal,’ at least until such time that a vaccine is developed and tested, which could take between 12-18 months,” Rowley said.

“An important first step in developing the Recovery Road Map must be to clearly identify and analyse the constraints that will continue to exist for some time.”

He said a potential social and economic reboot would have to be done following a readiness assessment overseen by the Chief Medical Officer and health experts, which could state which non-essential businesses and institutions re-open first.

“There is a continuing need to prioritise currently limited resources to protect economically vulnerable groups and support those sectors related to people’s livelihoods. Furthermore, there must be sufficient food and daily necessities available for the population. Alleviating the negative impact on livelihoods and the economy must be given as much attention as stopping the virus so as to prevent severe damage to economic and social systems over the medium term,” he said.

“At the same time, the populace must be encouraged to think what they must do differently once the ‘Stay at Home’ order is relaxed given that health and behavioural protocols will most likely be a continued requirement to prevent further transmission.”

The Prime Minister admitted that medium to long term goals would include increasing Government efficiency by reducing bureaucracy, while government spending in relation to returns would also be required as the pandemic exposed many frailties in our economy.

“In view of the lessons learnt from COVID-19, the deficiencies and structural rigidities in the economy must be examined as the basis for remodelling and creating a new economy,” he said.

“As a small island economy facing external vulnerabilities, can we continue having such high dependence on food imports?”

Adding that the country should also be wary of adopting the form of a permanent welfare state, which could set back the economy further, he said, “COVID-19 has unmasked the inequalities that exist in the economy and at the wider societal level. But, it has also demonstrated that all segments of the society are at risk.”