Vincy Mas will return to the Vincentian cultural calendar this year, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced on radio today (Sunday), saying that the COVID-19 vaccination rate would determine the size of the festival.
“It was decided clearly that we will have Carnival this year,” Gonsalves said on WE FM.
There was no Vincy Mas in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 94 lives from among 7,929 cases recorded locally,
Gonsalves said health authorities would ramp up their vaccination effort over the next two months, with the hope of vaccinating 70% of the 80,000 people who are 12 years and older.
As of Sunday, 63,669 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
This represents 34,138 first doses, 27,395 second doses and 2,136 boosters.
Gonsalves the decision to hold the festival this year was made at Cabinet on Wednesday, after a two-hour discussion with the Carnival Development Corporation (CDC).
The prime minister spoke of what he said are the three basic functions of carnival.
First, Vincy Mas is a mass cultural event that showcases talent in mas, calypso, pan, and other areas.
It is also an economic activity, the prime minister said. Third, Vincy Mas is cathartic.
“Every society needs occasions when you have releases. It’s a catharsis. You’re doing work all the time and you have to have something which you let off your energy; you release it. There are all sorts of events, you do that with sports, you do it with cultural events.”
Carnival, he said, is one such activity, with thousands of persons involved.
“And those who don’t come out enjoy it at home and, increasingly, on various internet platforms. And the public sector and the private sector are very much engaged.”
He noted that in addition to the pandemic, SVG has been affected by the explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano and the impact of Hurricane Elsa last year.
“It has been a difficult time for our nation. And in addition to the cultural dimension, and in addition to the economic, there is a need for some kind of collective relief. At least so we think in Cabinet. I’d be interested to hear what people think about this.”
The prime minister said that the CDC’s proposal was “reasonable” and took into account the existing COVID-19 protocols and levels of vaccination.
“So naturally, I raised the question what kind of carnival would we have if we go for 70% vaccination by the end of March.
“So we try and do that in February and March — we do an all-out bigger campaign than ever. This is not just a question of getting the vaccine rate up, that’s one thing, but really we need something bigger than this slimmed-down version of Carnival.
“So, the idea is … to go on a mass campaign to up the vaccination rate and to link it also with the kind of carnival that we will have.”
Gonsalves said that linking the size of Vincy Mas to the vaccination levels is not an opportunistic move.
“This is something which is strategic, both in terms of health, and for us, as a people to have this release after this tremendous strain and pressure and part of our our quest to respair — fresh hope in life and living and for us to feel better.”
He said that while the government is focusing on infrastructural development, the social safety net and support for various types of production, “we need to do something existential.
“And people are doing it with churches on Saturdays and Sundays, but healthy carnival activity is perfectly normal. And if the priests could play mas, who is we?”
The prime minister said that Cabinet has asked the CDC to provide data as the government might not know until April “whether we’re going to have something big or something scaled down”.
He said that some carnival makers may begin planning, and, for example, mas bands wanting to compete in the King and Queen of the Band competition may wish to begin making their costumes.
The prime minister said that some mas bands might be even cynical about whether the government would reach the vaccination target.
“Well, I want to know, what the sums involved are, if we have to provide a reimbursement in whole and substantial part for work which people do in the artistic creative field, in the months of February and March, or even into April, which they may not be able to use if the format is more constrained.
“You have to do these things simultaneously. And you have to hope that the best results come in each and every little thing that you’re doing towards this grand goal of a pretty normal carnival.”
He said that the same goes with people who produce music.
“This is another case of somebody who never involved before in singing calypso or soca and they say they have something and they spend so much time, something of some low quality or the other and hoping that it’s a kind of social welfare trough you’re coming to. No no; that’s not it,” the prime minister said.
He said the CDC will have its criteria of who would qualify for reimbursement.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves said that the Health Services Subcommittee of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) has to be greatly involved in the planning of the festival and in the vaccination drive over the next two months.
“… which means that we essentially will have to double it from where it is now in the mid 30s — percentage wise.”
He said that the vaccination drive would also include ensuring that people who qualify for booster shots take them.
“And I think we can do it while we do and all other things because this is a matter which there are many handles, which would make light work. Outside, I continue to do my work and help to provide some decision making based on what are the inputs and the advice from the various entities.
“There’s something ambitious really in that regard. But we have to get everybody aboard,” the prime minister said.
He said that a large carnival is important to the national catharsis.
“We’re not going to get the mass release, that catharsis, that lifting of the existential spirit, in a sense, the cleansing away of many of the — our pressures at least, a different mood. Of course, strength is always critical, but a good mood can metamorphose and change into strength.”
He appeared to anticipate criticisms from the Christian community.
“For the Christian people, I say, ‘Well, I’m not looking for something hedonistic, you know. I’m looking for something — clean carnival fun.’ But that’s the nature of life and living. You even have Hedonism in church. So that’s not the point. As we have seen in Jamaica …” Gonsalves said.
He was referring to the “human sacrifices” allegedly perfumed by a “cult pastor” in Jamaica last October.
“But but we do things in a sensible way and yet enjoy ourselves and have this release so this is why I went to the goals of carnival.”
He said that Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache and her team would “tell us about some of her parameters, and number of some of her requisites.
“And her team will naturally be involved to help us to reach the 70% [vaccination].”
The prime minister spoke to the health issues of having carnival during the pandemic, noting that vaccinated and unvaccinated people would travel in the same buses to carnival events, but only vaccinated people would be allowed in the venue.
He was confident that carnival planners would get enough people to patronise their events, but said some unvaccinated people would be happy to just hangout together outside.
“We’ll have to impress on everybody the necessity and desirability of taking the vaccine in order to be coming in the activity. And knowing that if you come, and you’re not vaccinated, you’d be outside and you’d have to disperse. You lose your money coming to town…
“This is one of the challenges with a slimmed down version of the carnival is that the slimmed down version of the Carnival, paradoxically, with the existing rates of vaccination, may cause more transmission because of the controls outside, or the lack of controls outside time,” he said.