Ocean islands are, undoubtedly, favorite destinations for foreign investors and tourists primarily due to the diverse marine resources. These islands have geopolitical strategic relationship with the world. Amid the global spread of the coronavirus, it has become important to look at and analyze the extent of the disease and its impact, particularly, on the economy of the Republics of Malta, Zanzibar and Madagascar.
The theories and narratives are that islands may have few cases. Some other narratives that the islands may have huge numbers due to foreign visitors from infected countries and regions. It therefore becomes an important research focus to know the trends and to establish the possible effects on the economies and sociocultural lives of the population. Part of this study is presented here as follows: (i) The Islands and Coronavirus: An Overview (ii) Geographical location and Appearance of Coronavirus (iii) Economic Impact of Coronavirus on these Islands and (iv) Current Lessons and Directions for the Future.
Overview of Coronavirus:
The coronavirus disease appeared first in 2019 in Wuhan city in China. The disease was, first identified in Wuhan and Hubei, both in China early December 2019. The original cause still unknown, it remains a puzzle and an enigma for the world scientific community. The disease symptoms include high body temperature with persistent dry cough and acute respiratory syndrome. Some medical researchers say it is a pneumonia-related disease.
Late December 2019, Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of the disease in the city of Wuhan, China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus - named COVID-19 by the WHO - have spread around the world. WHO declared the outbreak only on 30 January, and then recognized it as “pandemic” on 11 March 2020.
Scientists and health experts have outlined various theories of its transmission. The basic transmission mechanisms of the coronavirus are the same worldwide. But the speed and pattern of spread definitely varies from country to country, urban to rural and place to place. Much also depends on cultural practices, traditional customs and social lifestyles. A densely populated township can have a different trajectory to a middle-class suburb or a village. The epidemic can spread differently among people on islands.
Geographical location and Appearance of Coronavirus:
The geographical location influence and spread of the coronavirus. During the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic, the first COVID-19 case in Malta was an Italian 12-year-old girl on 7 March 2020. The girl and her family were in isolation, as required by those following the Maltese health authority’s guidelines who were in Italy or other highly infected countries. Later, both her parents were found positive as well. As of 30 April, Malta reported 444 confirmed cases, 165 recoveries and 3 deaths.
The small Mediterranean island, first, imposed restrictions on travel from Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Switzerland to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Later closed completely air and sea entry points (except for cargo), and as of 13 March, mandatory quarantine was extended to travelers returning from any country. This was also published on the Malta Tourism Authority's and Air Malta’s websites. Malta then lockdown the island.
“The decision has been taken on the advice of the medical authorities because of the sharp increase in the spread of the virus, Some cases are local transmission, with the majority being foreigners and some linked to previous cluster and expected spread among immigrants living in crowded conditions,” Prime Minister Robert Abela told a press conference on 11 March.
Zanzibar, approximately 50 kilometers off Tanzania, is located in the Indian Ocean. It consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja and Pemba Island. The total population is 1.4 million. Zanzibar is a paradise for tourists with sandy beaches and clear Indian Ocean water, as well as coral and limestone scarps, which allow for significant amounts of diving and snorkeling.
Considerable disparities exist in the standard of living for inhabitants of Pemba and Unguja, as well as the disparity between urban and rural populations. The average annual income is $250. More than half the population lives below the poverty line despite its vast marine resources.
The Union Republic has shut its borders, both the mainland of Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar have banned all tourist flights as a precautionary measure against the deadly COVID-19. According the Ministry of Health, the Zanzibar had 105 coronavirus, Tanzania reported 284 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 30 April, 2020.
Madagascar, located in southern Africa, belongs to the group of least developed countries, according to the United Nations. It is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU). In 2018, the population of Madagascar estimated at 26 million. Madagascar’s natural resources include a variety of agricultural and mineral products. Its major health infrastructure, in poor conditions, is similar to many African countries.
Many of its medical centers, dispensaries and hospitals are found throughout the island, although they are concentrated in urban areas and particularly in Antananarivo. Access to medical care remains beyond the reach of many Malagasy, especially in the rural areas, and many recourse to traditional healers. This poses a challenge to contain the COVID-19.
As at 30 April, Madagascar recorded 249 coronavirus cases since the epidemic began, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nevertheless, it did not report any coronavirus deaths. In addition, Comoros and Lesotho remain the only two African countries yet to record infections.
In a summarized report, Dr Antipas Massawe, a former lecturer from the Department of Chemical and Mining Engineering, University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa, acknowledged the narratives that these ocean islands are closely involved in international tourism and trading, and consequently could easily be exposed to the global pandemic. “Malta, as an island situated naturally between Europe and North Africa, would be the most vulnerable because it is surrounded by heavily COVID-19 infected Italy, Spain, Turkey, Iran and others,” Massawe noted in his report that offered a fledgling narrative and further highlights the islands vulnerability.
Economic and Social Impact:
All the three islands of Malta, Zanzibar and Madagascar depend mostly on travel industry. Malta is the most highly-developed among them. Malta and Zanzibar are stable politically while Madagascar is an unstable southern African country. Ocean islands face an unprecedented crisis like any other country in the world. Governments and their central banks have put together mega-bailout packages. These ocean island governments around the world have also taken strict measures and adopted a range of tracking technologies to control the spread of the virus, as recommended by World Health Organization (WHO).
Malta, Zanzibar and Madagascar have made strides toward addressing the impact but only in the short term. What is important is to design post-pandemic policies that would reduce disparities and inequalities in the economy and society. With 105 coronavirus leading to lockdown of tourism sector, Zanzibar’s economy has been hard hit by tourists’ fears about the pandemic, with reports of hotel cancellations after the government suspended direct flights from Italy and other destinations.
At least 80% of Zanzibar’s annual foreign income comes from tourism but the government is looking at boosting investment in other sectors, such as fishing and agriculture, to mitigate the economic blow. Zanzibar’s scenery and rich historical culture bring close to 500,000 tourists to the island every year. With 105 coronavirus leading to lockdown of tourism sector, Zanzibar’s economy has been hard hit by tourists’ fears about the pandemic, with reports of hotel cancellations after the government suspended direct flights from Italy and other destinations.
Financing for at least 60% of the island’s budget comes from the tourism sector. “It’s going to affect us a lot because we really rely on tourism. The Italian market is a big market but in general, tourism is the backbone of Zanzibar, so we are going to lose a lot.” According to the words of Zanzibar’s Health Minister Hamad Rashid.
“We have to improve our agriculture system now using beautiful rains that we have, we have to improve our fishing industry so that we don’t depend on tourism anymore because of this risk which may happen anytime again,” added Hamad Rashid. The ministry has put in place measures to help prevent a coronavirus outbreak. Zanzibar has 192 primary health centers with staff trained to look for symptoms. The health centers do screening and track business people who travel broad, especially to China. It’s a small area, so it’s very easy to control.
With its proximity to Europe, Malta is hit by the coronavirus. Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments. Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbors. The landscape consists of low hills with terraced fields. According to Eurostat, Malta is composed of two larger urban zones nominally referred to as Valletta (the main island of Malta) and Gozo.
Malta is classified as an advanced economy together with 32 other countries according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Until 1800, Malta depended on cotton, tobacco and its shipyards for exports. Malta’s major resources are limestone, a favorable geographic location and a productive labor force. Malta produces only about 20 per cent of its food needs, has limited freshwater supplies because of the drought in the summer and has no domestic energy sources, aside from the potential for solar energy from its plentiful sunlight. The economy is dependent on foreign trade (serving as a freight trans-shipment point), manufacturing (especially electronics and textiles) and tourism.
Ecotourism and agriculture, key sectors of Madagascar, have suffered due to coronavirus. Agriculture employs more than 60% of the population. Madagascar is home to various unexploited plants found nowhere else on Earth. Many native plant species are used as herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions. As an innovative strategy to address the negative impact brought by the global pandemic, Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina gave the official launch to a Covid-Organics that could prevent and cure coronavirus local. He went further to brand Covid-Organics as export product, state orders to purchase the herbal medicine came from more than 10 African countries.
The drink, Covid-Organics, is derived from artemisia - a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment - and other indigenous herbs, according to the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA). Its safety and effectiveness have not been assessed internationally, nor has any data from trials been published in peer-reviewed studies. Mainstream scientists have warned of the potential risk from untested herbal brews. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control (CDC), referring to claims for herbal or tea remedies, says: “There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume.”
Current Lessons and Directions for the Future:
As the global economy struggles towards stabilizing, it further present new platforms for complete reviews and development strategies.
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana and Co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Eminent Group of Advocates for the SDGs and Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway and Co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Eminent Group of Advocates for the SDGs wrote an article about Sustainable Development Goals during the pandemic under the title: “Amid the coronavirus pandemic, SDGs more relevant today than ever” published in April. In their joint article, they raised many important viewpoints. But for the propose of this discussion, three of them are indicated here:
*This pandemic has manifestly exposed the crisis in global health systems. And while it is severely undermining prospects for achieving global health by 2030, critically it is having direct far-reaching effects on all the other SDGs.
*As our world strives to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic, we ultimately must seek to turn the crisis into an opportunity and ramp up actions necessary to achieve the SDGs. The spirit of solidarity, quick and robust action to defeat the virus that we are witnessing must be brought to bear on the implementation of the Goals. The quantum of stimulus and pecuniary compensation packages that is being made available to deal with the pandemic make it clear that, when it truly matters, the world has the resources to deal with pressing and existential challenges. The SDGs are one such challenge.
*But what we cannot afford to do even at these crucial times is to shift resources away from priority SDGs actions. The response to the pandemic cannot be de-linked from actions on the SDGs. Indeed, achieving the SDGs will put us on a solid foundation and a firm path to dealing with global health risks and emerging infectious diseases. Achieving SDGs Goal 3 will mean strengthening the capacity of countries for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.
Meanwhile, it would be necessary to concentrate, in the short-term, on specific steps to curb the pandemic and its spread and reduce the damage to a minimum, primarily the health and lives of people on these islands and importantly for Africa. It is necessary to analyze the lessons and forge long-term development plans.
“Given the raging coronavirus pandemic,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov’s interview with the International Life magazine, April 17, “One of the lessons to be learnt from the current events will be a shift in the elites’ stances in many countries which will prompt them to cut wasteful expenditure. It is significant to boost local healthcare systems and create reserves. We can hope that following the pandemic a well-known rule saying that lightning does not hit the same place twice will prove quite true. However, the sheer scale of the current disaster will apparently make a drastic effect on governments’ political compass.”
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
The author writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the BRICS.