By Dr George Roberts, MBBS, FRCS, D.M. (ORL)
Whereas I do not always completely agree with the strategies and approaches of the authorities in handling the Covid crisis in Antigua, I have deliberately avoided criticising their actions or actively promoting differing positions. This is for a number of reasons. In times like these where there is an unprecedented world crisis with no clear cut answers to potentially lethal and multifaceted problems, no one can honestly be sure of having the right solution. So with the relevant departments staffed with competent and qualified professionals, armed with more comprehensive and nuanced information than I have, I will usually automatically defer to their decisions.
But on the subject of a lockdown in the face of the current surge in Covid cases I feel compelled to propose a different view. The number of infected individuals is rising rapidly, and the Mount St John’s Hospital Medical Director himself has declared that the medical services are under severe strain as a result. The present curfew and other restrictions have not seemed able to control the steady rise. Additionally, we can reasonably project that there are a number of infected cases in the community who are passing on this very contagious disease, and will in some cases, become critical or even die. Some caregivers will get infected as well. The upshot of this will be less reserve capability of the medical services to handle not just Covid, but routine cases as well.
The much-touted vaccines will be helpful and a game changer. But they prevent disease, not treat it. So while they are being obtained and given, the virus will be continuing its metastatic march through the core of our community.
As I see more and more people that I have known sicken and hover at death’s door, I have a sense of the awesome and awful responsibility on the shoulders of our leaders. Our tourism-based economy has taken an almighty wallop. I can understand the desire to keep our communities open no matter what. But with the spread and threat of the virus now, business activity is declining day by day anyway. The travails and suffering associated with a robust lockdown to my mind do not compare with the spectre of an overwhelmed health system in an economic slump, with large numbers of critical patients and less severe cases who may perish due to insufficient material or human resources.
We have seen what has happened in Britain, the USA and nearby St Lucia, where there has been some inertia in adopting strict control measures. From my perspective, the right decision is obvious. We need to lock down immediately to give our health services a chance to maintain control, while concurrently expediting the acquisition and distribution of the vaccine. Hopefully then, once the infection rates are stabilised, we can relax the restrictions and gradually return to a more normal existence.
I really hope that the authorities reconsider their stance and move toward a stricter public distancing policy. If they don’t, I hope my fears are dead wrong. Otherwise many of us may be dead. Right?
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