By: Gerelyn Terzo
The year 2020 may now be in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean that the COVID-19 pandemic has disappeared. For many countries around the world, the pace of infections has ebbed and flowed, including in the Dominican Republic, where the government officials are trying feverishly to prevent a second wave of the virus from gripping the Caribbean nation.
They have their work cut out for them. Currently, more than 37,000 Dominican citizens are battling coronavirus, which is the worst that the country has seen in terms of the number of cases since the rise of the pandemic last March.
The country has been administering thousands of COVID tests on a daily basis with a positivity rate over the four-week period to Dec. 31, 2020, hovering at close to 16%. Of the roughly 170,000 confirmed COVID cases in the Dominican Republic as of December 2020, the country has suffered slightly more than 2,400 deaths while close to 131,200 patients have managed to recover, according to the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic.
Taken in context, however, the Dominican Republic has experienced “one of the lowest death rates” in the world, according to the country’s president, Luis Abinader. He stated in a recent interview that the pandemic was “under control” in the country and that the hospitals are running at about 30% capacity for beds relating to coronavirus, half of which are in intensive care units. The hospitals are also bolstering capacity.
Nonetheless, President Abinader doesn’t expect the Dominican to return to a state of normalcy just yet, saying instead that this is dependent on the rest of the world. He also pointed out, however, that the Dominican plans to purchase millions of doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and maintains that the logistics are in place for the distribution of the cure. The Dominican Republic has been the recipient of donations from the World Health Organization (WHO) to strengthen its defenses against the pandemic.
Late to the Vaccine Party
While Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico have already begun administering the COVID-19 vaccine, the Dominican Republic is behind. While the country has secured vaccines for its population of more than 10 million people, which will cost approximately USD 40 million, those doses won’t even make their way to the country until February 2021, with the vaccination process scheduled to begin the following month.
While the emergence of vaccines has ignited hope, the recovery won’t happen overnight. In fact, rather than easing lockdowns, the Dominican Republic has recently cracked down on its COVID-19 restrictions, extending its nationwide curfew at the start of the new year from 2100-0500 (9 pm – 5 am) to 1700-0500 (5 pm – 5 am) through Jan. 10.
To support the extended curfew, the government is temporarily closing the doors at restaurants and bars in addition to parks and other outdoor recreational facilities as well as church services. The Punta Cana International Airport remains open, with some restrictions, while flights to and from the U.K. are currently suspended.
Path to Recovery
Despite the hurdles, the Dominican Republic, like many countries around the world, is looking ahead toward recovery in 2021. While a return to normalcy has not yet occurred, the Dominican Republic believes that it is well-positioned to capitalize on the global economic recovery once it hits its stride, especially as it relates to travel and tourism.
Back in April 2020, Frank Elias Rainieri, senior vice president of leisure travel and tourism company Grupo Puntacana, forecast that tourism would be among the first sectors of the economy to recover from the pandemic.
He attributed part of this phenomenon to American travelers, who he said would be more likely to target destinations that are closer to home at first, including in the United States and the Caribbean, where the pandemic has been less severe than traveling to Europe or Asia, for instance. The United Kingdom is currently experiencing a variant of the COVID-19 that according to reports has been spreading to other countries as well.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the Dominican Republic’s economy, a recovery could get underway as soon as the first half of 2021, according to experts at the Think Economics 2020 conference. All eyes are on the United States, whose own economic recovery is set to determine the pace of growth in the Caribbean nation.
It is worth noting that prior to the pandemic, the Dominican’s economy was on a tear, growing at a rate of 6.1% in the half-decade leading up to 2019. By way of comparison, prior to the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund had predicted an economic expansion of 1.6% for the Latin America and Caribbean region. As of October 2020, however, the IMF has reversed that prediction and is now expecting nearly every county in the region to be in a recession.
The Dominican, however, has been one of the top economies in the Latin America and Caribbean region, fueled by growth in fields such as “tourism, remittances, and foreign direct investments,” according to the World Bank. On that note, foreign direct investments could exceed USD 2.6 billion in 2020, which tops the average amount over the past 10 years.
According to officials, this pace is thanks to the economic recovery that has already begun unfolding in the Dominican. Investments into the real estate sector have been especially noteworthy amid a wave of tourism and industrial projects commissioned by President Abinader.
There is also a plan underway for the province of Pedernales, which is where the country’s most popular beach is located. In the first half of 2021, the country is anticipating an investment of USD 1 billion to begin construction on greater tourism occupancy and the development of a new airport in Cabo Rojo.
In fact, the country was even headed toward attaining “high-income status” in the next nine years, but the pandemic appears to have thrown a wrench into those plans. The World Bank predicts that the Dominican’s economy will shrink by 4.3% in 2020 and punch below its weight for the next two years.