The territory now faces one of the darkest times yet in its fight against Covid-19, but the crisis will not last forever. Eventually, a vaccine or other solution will be found, and life will slowly return to normal.
In the meantime, a little optimism is in order. To that end, we believe the territory would do well to consider how to maximise the potential opportunities brought by the pandemic.
Surprisingly, they are not as rare as one might imagine.
Some opportunities are already being exploited through necessity. Consider, for instance, the acceleration of the digitisation process that long has been badly needed in many sectors of the economy.
The financial services industry has led the way — after picking up the pace following Hurricane Irma, many firms are now able to operate remotely from anywhere in the world — but the pandemic has motivated other businesses and government agencies to follow suit.
In a disaster-prone territory like this one, this progress is good news indeed, and we are particularly excited to see the public sector redoubling efforts to get in the game after years of promises about “e-government.”
A related silver lining — particularly in a relatively isolated archipelago like the Virgin Islands — is the increasing prevalence of virtual meetings.
In recent months, such technology has helped the region overcome some of the geographical barriers that have always bedeviled cross-border communication and collaboration in the public and private sectors alike.
Moreover, VI leaders surely have saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs since the start of the pandemic by meeting with their counterparts abroad online instead of in person.
The courts, meanwhile, have been holding virtual sittings, which is a game-changer in an international jurisdiction like this one.
Educational opportunities also have expanded greatly. We ourselves have taken part in digital journalism workshops that would not have been available to us before the pandemic.
During the current downtime, government and businesses should continue to implement digital reforms designed to pay dividends long after the Covid-19 era.
Benefits of the pandemic are also accruing in other areas.
In the health sector, leaders and workers alike have doubtlessly learned much about protecting the public health, both from hands-on experience and from sharing knowledge with their counterparts from other countries and international organisations.
Additionally, the need to tighten borders has recently spurred law enforcement agencies here to take long-needed security measures including setting up 24-hour monitoring and radar systems to deter illegal entry. Given the prevalence of drug running, human smuggling and illegal fishing in the territory’s waters during the best of times, such steps should have come long ago.
Even some of the most painful aspects of the pandemic present opportunities. Though the workforce has been shaken to its core as thousands have lost their jobs, what better time for the Department of Labour and Workforce Development to reform its outdated and quixotic policies with an eye toward better preparing young Virgin Islanders for available jobs?
Implementing such measures will not be easy, and the road out of the pandemic promises to be rocky. But focusing on potential opportunities will help the territory make the most of the journey, even while lifting spirits during this difficult time.