By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Jan. 15, 2021)
“You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.” — Maya Angelou
With the announcement that a government minister and the Deputy Commissioner of Police have tested positive for coronavirus, and cabinet members, police top brass and officials in the Ministry of Health are quarantined because of possible exposure, Vincentians have ramped up their precautions to stay safe.
The explosive discovery and disclosure present the country with vivid exhibits that those at the state’s highest level have not been scrupulously following the advice they offered to the general public. Fear stalks the land. Mask wearing is at an all-time high. Few persons object to sanitising their hands. Social distancing gets deserved respect.
The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache and, by extension, the government are aggressively touting the vaccine as a possible cure. According to Keizer-Beache, the government projects to vaccinate close to 80% of the population beginning in March 2020, after the vaccine becomes available.
The blind hope is that those vaccinated will be safer than those without the medication. No one in the medical establishment explains why those who take the vaccine will have to continue to wear masks, sanitise, and engage in social distancing. When citizens were vaccinated for measles, polio and smallpox, the clear and distinct understanding was that there was no need to worry about these deadly killers again.
Forty years on, and with knowledge in the biological sciences doubling every 18 months, it appears that we have far more information and much less understanding about the dangers that beset us.
As of today, Jan. 15, 255 persons with no history of recent travel have tested positive for COVID-19 in SVG since Dec. 28, 2020. More than 900 persons have been identified for contact tracing and testing. There is ample evidence of community spread, but the government has not admitted to this fact. They did not make that announcement when persons in Greiggs tested positive. The government’s “science” has taken us to local clusters, but apparently, this does not amount to community spread. However, vigorous attempts at contact tracing are ongoing.
Those occupying the corridors of power are dancing around the facts rather than honestly speaking to the people. The sad reality is that more locals are testing positive than persons who come in from the COVID-19 hotspots, even as Americans Airline deposits passengers twice weekly from COVID-19 hotspots.
How did we get here? Last year, our leaders said they were following the science. Regional leaders were said to have adopted a lazy man’s approach to public policy. We were the brightest, wisest and boldest. We actively encouraged flights into our land.
Everything had to have the appearance of normalcy. It was an election year. There was a battle to be fought. A victory to be won. And power to be had. Nothing or anything was to get into the way of that “democratic exercise”. And now we have what we have.
Some say now is not the time to cast blame. They claim that our time will be better spent searching for, implementing preventative measures and finding solutions. All of this newfound urgency is necessary.
But not so fast. Hell No! Now is as good as any to call out fools, laugh in the faces of useful idiots, and bring to heal the entire political class, government, and opposition that callously disregarded the populace’s health and safety in the run-up to the elections.
We would be foolhardy to forget that both side joyously bellowed, “What a crowd ah people!” or our prime minister’s heart-breaking plea, “Jah lick dem wid diseases” or politicians hobnobbing with investors who flew in and out on private jets without a single protective gear. Who relaxed the protocol for the elections campaign? Was it Chief Medical Officer Keizer-Beache or the political directorate? Double standards send mixed messages.
In the face of that reckless nonchalance, it will take someone with immense powers of discipline to act differently while the political class told them, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Small wonder that the majority of the population took only minimal precaution.
Worse, the cynicism and hypocrisy of the political class are instructive. Parliament remains closed to the public. Parliamentarians, who won the plum of power, took their seats in the hallowed halls of power. They locked out the masses whom they implored to huddle in massive numbers during the elections campaign. There is nothing in the public domain that points to a single parliamentarian politely requesting entry for a limited audience during the assembly meetings. All of the elected members want to protect their health and safety.
What is the source of the community spread? An informed guess leads us to the unmistakable conclusion that Vincentians were inflected by persons who came into our country with the virus. Citizens who worked in the Grenadines came into contact with contaminated visitors and then returned to the mainland.
How in heaven’s name do you protect citizens when double standards rule? Persons who fly into SVG have to be quarantined at their own expense, for 14 days. Security at some of these facilities is so lax that visits occur routinely. Some returnees were allowed to go home without being quarantined.
In Mustique, visitors quarantine for one day then can go to the bar and the beach. At the recent high roller wedding on Mustique, locals must have come into contact, then came into contact with friends and family on the mainland. Incidences of community spread are now so widespread that investors at Canouan have taken the law into their own hands. Employers instruct workers to leave at the peril of their jobs. Go to the mainland, and you must quarantine for 10 days, and it will not be taken as vacation leave. Mustique is a bubble and nationals are banned from leaving the island.
Where are we heading? There is no known answer. However, we are in desperate need of a clear and definite roadmap. With hundreds of tests pending, we could be in a worse position if a large percentage of these prove positive. In times like these, we cannot afford to fall victim to fear. We have a personal responsibility to engage in preventative health care. Exercise, clean water, sunlight, healthy meals with lots of fruits and vegetables, vitamin C and D supplements and a search for knowledge are our best protection against contamination.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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