Government spends billions in fight against covid19


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A long line of people waiting for covid19 relief grants at the Department of Social Development and Family Services in Port of Spain. – Photo by Sureash Cholai

A few days after the covid19 virus was declared a global pandemic, on March 13, 2020, Trinidad and Tobago had its first case. Since then, the government has strived to balance the security of TT citizens with keeping the economy alive, especially in the face of global social and economic stagnation.

That balance cost billions of dollars in losses due to lockdowns and restrictions and billions more in social assistance, health care and later vaccinations against the virus. In its latest budget reading, the government admitted an estimated contraction in real GDP of 6.8% and a budget deficit of $ 16.8 billion, or about 11% of GDP.

But thanks to the development of a parallel health system to treat the sick, a relief scheme to provide support to those affected by the economic downturn and a deployment of vaccines to prevent further extreme cases of the virus and deaths, the government has been able to deal with the more than 50,000 people infected with the virus and thousands more who have lost their livelihoods due to the economic impact of the virus.

Alternative health care

As of September 2020, the government had spent $ 102 million on its parallel health system. The Department of Health said in October last year that it was costing $ 600 per day to treat covid19 patients, which would include consumables, beds, and staff to deal with the patient at different levels.

Tonya Wilson, 14, left, and best friend A’niah Taitt, 14, show off their vaccination cards after receiving the Pfizer covid19 vaccine at Signal Hill High School. Tonya’s father, Nigel Wilson, was present to supervise. -Archive photo / David Reid

According to October reports, 4,584 patients had gone through the parallel health system, created in March 2020.

In May, the health ministry said it had a capacity of 662 beds. The ministry’s covid19 dashboard indicates that there are currently 294 people currently in the 16 facilities of the parallel health system.

With an average hospital stay of around seven days, this would mean that at its current capacity, the ministry would spend an average of $ 176,400 per week to treat covid19 patients.

Ministry statistics up to Wednesday also indicate that 350,499 covid19 tests have been carried out since March 2020. Of those tests, 152,796 were carried out in private and 197,703 were carried out in public.

A private hospital’s website said their PCR tests cost $ 1,400 and antigen tests cost around $ 500. These tests can be done in drive-thru installations and it takes approximately 24-48 hours to get a result.

To finance the health system, the Ministry of Finance increased budget allocations to various parts of the health sector, including regional health authorities and Nipdec – the country’s main procurement agency.

The main source of funding for the parallel health system would come from its budget allocation of $ 6.05 billion. In 2020, roughly the same amount was allocated – roughly $ 6.084 billion.

Relief funding

Last year, nearly $ 5 billion was spent to provide relief to those affected by the economic downturn associated with the pandemic.

This funding was distributed in food aid grants, to people made redundant or with reduced income, to children who benefited from school meals, to beneficiaries of public aid programs and assistance to disabled people, to the elderly. , taxi owners, cultural artists and even people stranded abroad while the country’s borders were closed.

Trinidad and Tobago men’s 200m world record holder Nicholas Paul, left, and Sports and Community Development Minister Shamfa Cudjoe at a recent welcome reception at the airport VIP lounge international of Piarco. – Courtesy of MSCD

For those made redundant, around 50,904 grants were awarded. 25,101 other grants were made to individuals under the food aid program. More than 3,000 people have benefited from housing assistance and a total of 1,400 emergency baskets have been distributed to families in need.

These grants were worth over $ 1,000 each.

Grants for the elderly amounted to approximately $ 1,500 in food assistance. People who received disability assistance grants also received approximately $ 1,000 in food aid and $ 30 million was given to churches and other religious organizations to fund the distribution of food, which in in turn provided 49,330 baskets to those in need.

The government also provided financial support to businesses to maintain jobs, which included zero-interest loans for around 142 SMEs, accelerated VAT repayments for more than 5,000 SMEs, 528 grants to micro-enterprises, which cost around $ 4.8 million, and 124 importers of essential items secured from the United States. $ 75 million via a special import foreign exchange facility provided by Eximbank.

In 2021, the government was unable to provide the same level of relief, according to Finance Minister Colm Imbert. But it has provided income support and wage relief to those affected by the lockdown measures implemented in May.

The government provided an income support grant of $ 1,500 to people who did not have an account with the National Insurance Council, and a wage relief grant of the same amount for people who were in the system. national insurance. This grant facility was intended for people who lost income during the first two weeks of May. Those who lost income later due to the restrictions put in place at the end of May received grants of $ 1,000.

Imbert later said 14,331 people had accessed the wage relief grants, which would cost the government around $ 30 million.

The Ministry of Finance also funded a campaign by the Ministry of Agriculture to provide 25,000 food baskets with local produce to 41 constituencies.

Tonya Wilson, 14, left, and her best friend A’niah Taitt, 14, show off their vaccination cards after receiving the Pfizer covid19 vaccine at Signal Hill High School. Tonya’s father, Nigel Wilson, was present to supervise. -Archive photo / David Reid

Imbert said the grants were to be funded from May to July at first, and second through September. He said the food basket initiative cost around $ 10 million per month during the five months of the program’s operation.

An additional $ 10-20 million was also earmarked for the distribution of food cards that complemented the food basket program.

Vaccination

In the 2020-2021 budget, the government said it would provide a total of 1.5 million doses of the covid19 vaccine that would be able to provide the nation with enough vaccine to establish herd immunity.

Although the target for herd immunity has changed somewhat due to the variants of the virus, the government has still been able to immunize over a million people through acquisitions from the Covax facility, the African Platform of medical supply (AMSP) and various loan and grant facilities.

In last year’s budget presentation, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said Cabinet had approved the use of $ 66 million for more than 400,000 Covax vaccines, but the Covax facility did not approve. the government only for 108,000 doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine, which are issued in two doses.

A graph of the covid19 vaccines available in TT. –

In March, TT received 34,000 doses, followed by 33,600 additional doses in May.

In August, TT received a further 108,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine, through AMSP. The government was also able to acquire 800,000 vaccines from China, which landed in TT in July. These vaccines were added to hundreds of thousands of vaccines donated to TT – the United States donated 305,370 doses, China donated 100,000 more, India donated another 40,000 and even Barbados donated around 2,000 vaccines that helped roll out the vaccination.

Imbert at press conferences earlier this year said through the Covax facility that Astra Zeneca vaccines cost around US $ 5, but other vaccines cost around US $ 15.

Where does the money come from?

The government used a combination of loan facilities and withdrawals from the Wealth Stabilization Fund. At the start of the fight against the pandemic, it withdrew about $ 1.1 billion from the fund, which aims to cushion the impact on sustainable public spending capacity during tough times. The law supporting the fund has been amended to include cases where a dangerous infectious disease has been declared.

The government also obtained loan facilities through the Inter-American Development Bank to the tune of US $ 100 million and another loan from the World Bank, worth about US $ 20 million. In May, Imbert announced a loan of 170 million euros ($ 204 million), of which $ 25 million is expected to be used to purchase “Chinese items.”

These items included the purchase of 800,000 Sinopharm vaccines.

About Rodney Fletcher

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