Published On: Mon, Apr 6th, 2020

The unmeasurable tradeoffs

Letter - St Maarten News - PeopleDear Editor,

Decision makers in our islands are going to be challenged with tradeoffs that have better medical assurances on the one hand and quicker economic recovery on the other hand.

Both sides of this tradeoff are currently unpredictable although there are probably epidemiologists with considerable insight into where the cards are likely to fall in the near future.

For the economic growth return it will depend on the structure of any economy and its dependence on exports and people exposure. In the case of Sint Maarten we are clearly almost totally dependent on exports and our exports are dependent on people interaction so it is clear on which side of the spectrum we are. (If our main industry was manufacturing then it would simply be a matter of keeping the manufacturing facility controlled for transmission risk.)

On the medical side it can and will change with the usability of medicines, vaccines and hospital care capacity. But there are also potentials for the medical side to be improved by social policy when there is a better understanding of the nature of the transmission. If that could be better understood there is the chance, at least in the wealthy countries (and our tourist customers) for life to be organized around transmission risks. This could happen with GPS location methods and with physical barriers of all types.

Testing is the ultimate key to unlock part of the challenge but it would require certainty about the results of tests. Would a negative test not mean that infection could occur any moment? Would a test that indicates previous infection give any certainty about a repeated infection? Testing is obviously the key but only if it is highly dependable and affordable.

If the technology would be created that gives certainty about risk, then tourist destinations like Sint Maarten could make the investment that would reduce the risk for the community and the visitor. But that would likely be a significant investment. Such an investment would lose all its value the moment a certifiable and internationally recognized vaccine would be on the market.

Decision makers have to deal with unpredictable material that could develop in any one of many directions. The quality of information and forecasting is inevitably doubtful with much of it in the hands of “big pharma” and major country approvals. The decision makers in small territories are not going to have the best specialists at their disposal, the larger countries will suffer less from that.

I wish our decision makers the very best in respect of this difficult material. I recommend those who think there are simple or obvious solutions to be more circumspect.

Robbie Ferron