Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon on Covid-19, vaccines and the post pandemic future.
I know that the people of the Overseas Territories are accustomed to the challenges of handling natural disasters, but the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in the way it has impacted communities around the globe.
My experience of the Overseas Territories is that they are welcoming and close knit, so it was heart-breaking to see the impact of the virus when borders were closed, businesses shut and families separated. I know this has been a particularly hard year for many in the Cayman Islands. It has been difficult in the United Kingdom too where the virus saw a dramatic economic slowdown and sadly many deaths.
I am proud of the fact that despite the situation we faced in the UK, we were able to support the Overseas Territories, and in the case of Cayman, this included the provision of Pfizer vaccines, personal protective equipment and essential Public Health England support to establish high quality testing capacity.
In total the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has delivered over three million items of medical equipment to the Overseas Territories since March last year. We have recently been organising the delivery of the vaccines to all of the inhabited Territories. Whilst the UK provided material support, I have been impressed by the way in which people across the Territories rallied together to keep their communities safe, and how the public servants and other key workers strived tirelessly to keep essential services running in these exceptional circumstances. In these difficult times we have seen the very best of people in our communities.
The pandemic has called into question all of the freedoms and certainties we took for granted, but it has also forced us to innovate and change our ways of working. We all hope that globally life will return to normal very soon, but we should expect that some things will have changed permanently as we move forward. Whilst this has been a shock to many of us, this is actually an opportunity for Cayman, especially as the world embraces remote working, placing the Overseas Territories with an opportunity to
attract new talent and inward investment. Your Global Citizen Concierge programme is a good example of this.
Likewise, as international tourism restarts and travellers look for destinations that have managed to control community transmission, the supply of vaccines from the UK gives the Overseas Territories a unique advantage to market themselves as safe places to holiday as we learn to live with COVID-19.
We need only look to Gibraltar, which had more than 1,200 active cases when the vaccination campaign began and has managed to reduce this down to zero, or St Helena which managed to vaccinate more than 90% of its adult population within four weeks.
However, the supply of vaccines cannot be taken for granted and each batch has a limited shelf life. In Cayman, the expiry date for the remaining vaccines is 30 June. I must therefore implore everyone who can, to take the vaccine, not only for themselves, but to protect their friends and family, and do their part to ensure you can re-open borders and restart your economy. Whilst the first wave of COVID-19 was a shock, we have seen the spread of more infectious variants in the UK, Gibraltar and Bermuda were much harder to contain and led to more deaths. This is regrettably a phenomenon which many other countries are also experiencing. Now is not the time to wait and see, the vaccines are safe and effective, by getting vaccinated you will be helping your community.
The pandemic illustrated how fragile global supply chains are, and gave us reason to think about how resilient our communities are. As we restart our economies, we need to think carefully about what we can all do to protect the environment and halt global warming which is disproportionately impacting island communities around the world.
This year the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) with the aim of stepping up global cooperation to tackle climate change. The Overseas Territories are an essential part of the British Family and we should use COP26 to show case the excellent work in some Territories to protect globally important habitats, adapt to the changing climate and lead the shift towards renewable energy.
The establishment of your new Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resilience under Premier Panton is an excellent step in ensuring these challenges are addressed.
Working together, in a relationship based upon respect and partnership, the United Kingdom and the Overseas Territories can be a force for good on the world stage.