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We were not at all surprised at the word coming from the health officials that recommendations were to be made to Cabinet yesterday to “Increase the stringency of the regulations that are already in place.” Minister of Health, the Honourable Molwyn Joseph, in a headmaster mode, declared that, “If people don’t behave, there must be sanctions. We cannot have a few people in this country spoil things for the majority.” Spoil? Talk about putting it mildly! Those who fail to abide by the protocols are not merely ‘spoiling’ it for the rest of us; nay, they are endangering our very lives!

Minister Joseph cited the disturbing Covid numbers in countries like St. Maarten, the Bahamas, Guyana and Jamaica, as well as those in bigger countries like India, Brazil and the United States, as proof positive that Covid-19 is a very real and present danger, an existential threat that ought not to be trifled with. We support the Minister’s call for continuing vigilance, and greater sanctions for those who blithely flout the protocols.

To be sure, the laxity on the part of scofflaws has something to do with our remarkably low Covid casualties. As of 6:00 pm this past Tuesday, we only had a total of 97 confirmed cases, with 92 recoveries, 2 active cases, and unfortunately, 3 deaths. By any measure, this is encouraging news, and we ought to commend the health authorities, law enforcement personnel, the Customs and immigration folks, the business community and the churches, indeed, all Antiguans and Barbudans who have stepped up in a big way to keep us safe. Notwithstanding the criticisms that sometimes have been hurled their way, (fairly or unfairly) the authorities have stuck to the task at hand, tweaking and finagling the protocols and policies to ensure optimum efficacy.

But this is no time to be resting on our laurels. The battle against this dreadful disease is hardly over. In fact, there are fears that we could be seeing a second wave – what with surging numbers in some first world countries. Reports of some Antiguans and Barbudans congregating for beer and ‘ol talk,’ and around domino and card games in the backyards and on street corners are not good. Neither are the increasing numbers of people that have been observed playing football and basketball games on the playgrounds of our fair State. Are they not paying attention to the gruesome headlines from the capitals around the world? And what’s with the improper wearing of the masks, and even the failure on the part of some to wear masks? Tsk, tsk! We can certainly do better than that.

Meanwhile, we understand that the race to find a vaccine is in it’s last leg for a number of pharmaceutical companies. For example, USA today reported the following: Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it was beginning the final stage of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate trial as the company hopes to provide safe and effective protection with a single shot. . . . While other companies have already begun their late-stage trials, Johnson & Johnson’s is the first vaccine candidate to reach Phase 3 requiring only one dose, which could ease the challenges of vaccine distribution.” We remain hopeful and prayerful.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), with whom we are already working for the delivery of vaccines when they become available, is also optimistic, and quite prepared for the emergence of a safe and effective vaccine. According to their July 12th report, Countries in the Americas are pooling their efforts to ensure access to treatments and vaccines for Covid-19, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa F. Etienne, said today. Acting as a bloc, PAHO member states will benefit from our technical expertise, as well as our decades of experience securing and distributing vaccines quickly and efficiently. We will also ensure the process is as inclusive as possible by allocating doses fairly among those countries participating.” Dr Etienne said that the PAHO Revolving Fund for vaccines can be used as a strategic asset to buy and distribute vaccines for Covid-19 when they become available.” All well and good!

Nonetheless, until such time, we must continue to enforce and abide by the protocols that seem to have worked to good effect so far. Unless our low Covid numbers are the result of plain dumb luck. We believe the former. And, of course, the grace and mercy of The Almighty. But dumb luck, and grace and mercy, will not endure forever. The axiom is that “heaven helps those who help themselves.” We have to play our part – good social distancing, good coughing and sneezing etiquette, washing our hands frequently, wearing our masks (properly), changing our clothes when we arrive home, boosting our immune systems, getting as much sleep as possible, and of course, avoiding the warri and domino games with the foolhardy crowds that seem to enjoy ‘whistling past the graveyard.’

In our May 29 DAILY OBSERVER report entitled, WHEN BORDERS REOPEN, the aforementioned Dr Carissa Etienne is quoted as cautioning, “Now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions.”  We believe that that word of caution is still relevant. Her words still apply, and that’s why we’re supporting Minister Joseph’s recommendation for an “increase in the stringency of the regulations.” Covid is not a joke! We have heard stories of many leading figures around the world who scoffed at mask-wearing and other safety protocols to their own detriment. (See Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro who contracted the disease, and Herman Cain who succumbed to it). An argument can be made that their irresponsible rhetoric and behaviour, influenced others to be just as unserious about the gravity of Covid-19, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Sigh!

Folks, let’s return to our sober ways of earlier this year when the spectre of disease and death stared us in the face.

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