Islands of the Caribbean Netherlands hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic
/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
A new edition of ‘Trends in the Caribbean Netherlands’ has been published today, 6 December 2021. This publication from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) gives a compact overview of the current situation on the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands: Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius. In addition to updated and new figures on the economy, energy, labour and income, the publication describes the major impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism on the islands.
Gauging statistics requirements
Quintin Knuf is head of the CBS office of the Caribbean islands on Bonaire. Together with three colleagues, he is responsible for statistics on the islands. ‘We gauge the statistics requirements, coordinate the fieldwork, contact public bodies and government services, and ensure relationship management. It is also our task to disseminate the data. CBS staff at our home office are responsible for the data processing operations.’ In addition to the four employees in the Bonaire office, there are also 40 freelancers who work for the statistical office on a project basis. ‘These are the price collectors, for example, who record the prices in the shops. We use this information to work out the inflation rate.’
Knuf proudly announces that the Director General of CBS, Angelique Berg, will today present the latest edition to Edison Rijna, Lieutenant Governor of the Public Entity of Bonaire. ‘This is the 10th edition. We started in 2012 with a small booklet of a few pages, but over the years this has grown into a substantial publication. The publication mainly serves as a reference book. People enjoy having a book like this and leafing through it.’ According to Knuf, this is also linked to the fact that on the Caribbean islands, people still communicate a great deal face-to-face. ‘The residents find it important to see and speak to each other. Arranging things online is much less common here than in the Netherlands. Many companies still do not have a website, for example.’
Tourism is an important source of income for the islands, but the sector was seriously undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is made clear in the publication’s special section on the consequences of the pandemic. For example, Bonaire International Airport first closed on 14 March 2020. Cruise ships were also no longer welcome. On 16 March 2020, the ports and airports of Saba and St Eustatius also closed. This had a major impact on the number of aircraft movements to and from the Caribbean Netherlands, with a drop of 87,7 percent in April 2020 compared to April 2019. In the same period, the number of air passengers actually fell by nearly 100 percent. Knuf: ‘Tourism dropped right down to nothing from 14 March 2020. Fortunately, it has recovered nearly completely since summer 2021 and we are now back to the number of tourists we saw in 2019.’
The COVID-19 pandemic had consequences not only for tourism. Residents and companies were also affected. Fortunately, just as in the Netherlands, the government took measures to mitigate the impact. Knuf: ‘Companies and individuals were able to make use of the government’s emergency support, called the TOZO scheme. As a result, the rise in the unemployment rate was very limited.’ COVID-19 also affected education in the Caribbean Netherlands. For instance, all primary and secondary schools on Bonaire and St Eustatius had to close, as did all day care facilities. Saba University had to make adjustments to deal with the situation.
COVID-19 also had an effect on data collection on the Caribbean islands. Knuf: ‘Take the consumer price index – the CPI – for example. At certain times, there was little or no possibility of collecting the prices of products and services. The Labour Force Survey, which is conducted every two years and which provides figures on the number of people employed, could not be carried out any earlier than between December 2020 and March 2021. The survey is normally held face-to-face, but in this case, it mainly had to be done by telephone to minimise contact between interviewers and interviewees.’ Fortunately, there is once again good news to report. ‘After more than a year of exceptional circumstances on the islands due to COVID-19, everything now seems to be returning to normal,’ says Knuf.