Death stalks the land

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It appears as though we here in Antigua and Barbuda are indeed “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”On an almost daily basis, we are greeted with the sad announcement that another of our kinfolk has perished, victim to this unimaginable evil called Covid-19. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?” [Psalm 42:5] . . .  Ah, “’tis the gloomy shade of death . . .” [King Henry VI, Part I]

Of course, the familiar terse announcements on the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre letterhead, with the obligatory words of condolences to the bereaved families, are a daily reminder that these are indeed perilous times, and we must redouble our efforts to protect ourselves, our families, and our loves ones and colleagues.  We have been preaching the gospel of personal responsibility – frequently washing our hands, refraining from touching our faces and boosting our immune systems, along with the good social distancing, the mask-wearing, and the acceptance of the vaccine – and we will continue so to do. 

We are fortunate to have a handful of vaccine choices (AstraZeneca, Sinopharn, Sputnik V, Pfizer BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson) at our disposal, and we urge those who are “halting between two opinions” to quickly resolve their doubts and fears and step up to take the jab. The vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective, and even in cases where one might become exposed to the coronavirus, they will certainly reduce serious illness and the likelihood of death.

The constant raging debates about the vaccines have become quite tiresome to many, with the science deniers, the Anti-Christ fearful, the conspiracy theorists, and other rabid anti-vaxxers grasping at every ridiculous and unproven straw to support their argument against the jab. Interestingly, we understand that YouYube will no longer be posting any anti-vaxxer content on its media platform. Their argument is that this sort of kooky information in the public domain does not elevate the public discourse, certainly doing more harm than good – something akin to stoking mass hysteria and pandemonium by the shouting of “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre. The irrefutable fact of the matter is that almost all the people who are succumbing to the coronavirus, were NOT vaccinated. That ought to be proof positive as to the efficacy of the vaccines.

To be sure, with its failed public education campaign, this lackluster administration had to resort to mandating the vaccine for public sector workers, and the sort, and this has certainly stoked the ire of those who believe in the freedom of choice. Tomorrow is D-Day, and it remains to be seen what the fallout will be re those who failed to get the jab, notwithstanding the draconian edicts from on high. It will undoubtedly be economic hardship. Sigh! Whatever happened to the fine art of reason and persuasion? This administration stands exposed as shallow, ineffective and totally uninspiring! Leadership is clearly not its strong suit. Its methods are those of an ordinary street thug – cursing, bullying and intimidation. How sad!

Meanwhile, contrast the bombast from this administration to the well-reasoned and stateswomanlike approach of Mia Amor Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados. We’re talking about statecraft, folks – the fine art of diplomacy, winning the hearts and minds of the Bajan people with the strength and force of her ideas. She has declared her opposition to making the vaccines mandatory. Nonetheless, she is committed to vaccinating as many people as possible so that the holy grail of herd immunity can be achieved, by dint of a robust education campaign. Madame Prime Minister, distinguished leadership becomes you! Would to high heaven that there were more like you!

In his literary gem, WE KNOW NOT WHOM TO MOURN, Edgar Mittelholzer tells the story of a man who is seemingly dying in the upstairs bedroom of the family home. The family gets together to prepare for what seems like the inevitable. Unfortunately, while they are fussing over the man upstairs, the Grim Reaper continues its stalking, and it is a ghastly shout from downstairs that alerts the family to another untimely death in the same house. With so many deaths here in Antigua and Barbuda, especially in this tragic month of September, we too seem caught in a sort of ‘we-know-not-whom-to-mourn’ twilight zone. Even as we mourn the passing of a loved one, another is transitioning to the Great Beyond.  Our hearts are wracked with dizzying grief! And the unkindest cut is that we cannot even mourn for the length of time, and in the loving and affectionate ways that we were once accustomed to, on account of this coronavirus pandemic. Sigh!

The image of the refrigerated container to store the excess bodies at the old Holberton Hospital has added to that sense of urgency with our response to the pandemic. This is indeed the aforementioned ‘valley of the shadow of death,’ – the ever-increasing, record-breaking Covid numbers, and the record-breaking number of deaths in the month of September (an average of a little over one death per day). Even as the administration flails and flounders . . . .

Folks, let us do what we must to protect ourselves and our communities. The protocols are designed to keep us safe. As are the vaccines. This too shall pass, hopefully, sooner rather than later. At that time, we will be able to declare, “Oh Death, where is thy sting; Oh Grave, where is thy victory?”  [1 Corinthians 15:55]

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