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Policy & Global Development

How to Respond to COVID-19 in a Small Island State. The Experience of the English-Speaking Caribbean and the Importance of International Cooperation

Series | COVID-19 and response strategy #38


[This document is a one of a series of discussion notes addressing fundamental questions about the COVID-19 crisis and response strategies. These documents are based on the best scientific information available and may be updated as new information comes to light.]

Written by Clara Marín, Júlia Montañà, Oriana Ramírez-Rubio and Marta Ribes (ISGlobal), this document is based on the report published by the United National Development Programme (UNDP) and ISGlobal entitled COVID-19 Policy Reports for Recovery in the Eastern Caribbean. Analysis, Scenarios and Considerations for Opening to Tourism (October-December 2020), funded by the UNDP. 


During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the island states of the English-speaking Caribbean region acted quickly and achieved early control of disease transmission thanks to their maritime borders and successful control strategies, including complete closure to tourism. However, these strict measures could not be maintained over a long period without a hugely negative impact on their economies, which rely largely on the flow of visitors to the islands.

In the elaboration of a strategy for safely exiting lockdown and reopening tourism, the countries in the region received technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation. The conclusions of this collaboration are discussed in this report from ISGlobal’s COVID-19 and response strategy series.

The document reports on the experience of the ten island states in the Eastern Caribbean that received technical assistance. It illustrates the complexity of the decisions involved in structuring a response to a critical public health risk and the potential of technical cooperation and collaboration between governments, multilateral organisms and experts in dealing with pandemics as well as other threats, such as climate crisis.

Small Island Developing States is a special group set up by the United Nations. Since these countries and territories have unique characteristics that make them more vulnerable to emergencies, a culture of cooperation and information sharing between countries is vital to the region.