Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Minister of Health Luke Browne, on Friday, for the second time in a week, appeared in public in a manner at variance with the advice of their health officials amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Gonsalves and Browne stood less than three feet apart for at least 36 minutes during a government event at Argyle International Airport.
Neither Gonsalves, Browne nor Francisco M. Perez Santana, Charge d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Kingstown wore a mask, as they stood almost shoulder-to-shoulder as Kingstown received a donation of COVID-19 test kits from Caracas.
The development came even as Gonsalves, in a video on Thursday, urged the public to follow the physical distancing guidelines of his Ministry of Health and to forgo the “jollification” that often accompanies Easter celebrations.
The Ministry of Health has urged persons to stand between three and six feet apart and to wear a mask when in public or if they have flu-like symptoms.
And while these are mere guidelines, the police announced on Thursday that they would be enforcing these and other “guidelines and protocols”, including preventing persons from congregating in church, at beaches and preventing boat excursions over the Easter Weekend.
However, persons looking to the prime minister and minister of health as examples in this area might be left sorely disappointed.
Just one week earlier, on April 3, Gonsalves and Browne, along with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights were among some 30 persons at a Ministry of Health press conference in Kingstown.
Gonsalves rebuffed journalist Lyf Compton who asked why the Ministry of Health “thought it wise to have 30 people gathered in an air-conditioned room when we are talking about social distancing and to add to that, we are passing around a microphone from person to person”.
In response, Gonsalves said:
“Leh me ask you a question in answer to that. Fair question. We passing it (the microphone) around, we should spray it.”
The prime minister, smiling, continued, “Why should a man who should be in quarantine at an earlier stage, I don’t know if he should be in quarantine now because he is the parent of a child, why should he be about? Is he doing essential work?
“I don’t want — I’m not saying it to you. I am just raising the question. Don’t bother with me, man.”
Browne and Keizer-Beache were among the persons who found the exchange funny, as evidenced by their laughter.
Compton, however, told Gonsalves that he did not know exactly he was referring to.
“If we are saying that, two wrongs don’t make a right,” Compton said.
“Maybe someone should tell me why we’re in here with 30 people,” the journalist further said.
Kenton Chance, executive editor of iWitness News, who was also at the press conference, added, “Prime Minister, I am asking, on behalf of my colleague, whether he is going to get an answer to his question.”
Knights, who had since come to the podium said:
“Well, Lyf, I think we have come to that point, you yourself have admitted that we should have–”
Before Knights could complete his thought, the prime minister said, “We should have been spraying it.”
Compton them asked if the head table was saying that his question was not going to be answered.
The prime minister told the journalist that he knows the answer.
“It should have been sprayed,” Gonsalves said.
Compton’s question came at the end of a 99-minute press briefing in which Gonsalves, Browne, and Keizer-Beache had spoken for 62 minutes before inviting questions.
Chance had earlier said that it might have been more useful if the statement had been made elsewhere on radio and the journalists invited to the conference room solely to ask questions.