In the movie, JAWS, there is a line that goes something like this: “Just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water . . . all hell breaks loose.“ The fearsome sea creature known as Jaws, wreaks havoc on the people of the sleepy, bucolic seaside town of Amity. Of course, the loss of life could have been avoided, were it not for the idiocy of its mayor, Larry Vaughn. Remember, notwithstanding the advice of mariners and experts, who’d warned of the threat posed by this dangerous man-eating shark, Vaughn, a self-serving blowhard wiling to put ‘lives over livelihoods,’ declared that “The beaches are opened and people are having a wonderful time.” At another point, he deadpans, “Only three people got eaten; the rest had a great season.” Sigh!
Now take a quantum leap out of movie-land into real life, and we find that real life is imitating reel life in a most uncanny way. Seems, many of the world’s leaders, including our own, are . . . well, hell-bent on declaring the beaches, the restaurants, the airports, the churches, the whole kit and kaboodle open so that the economy and “people will have a wonderful time.” Mayor Larry Vaughn of Amity would be proud! And why not? So many leaders are blithely following in his foolhardy footsteps.
Of course, the burning question on everyone’s minds is: “Is June too soon?” Apparently, in the minds of many, ‘tis. We here at NEWSCO are on record, in these very editorial pages, as echoing the sentiments of a number of prominent world leaders and experts, not least among them the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in urging due care and deliberation. We believe that we should proceed rather gingerly out of this lockdown. We further believe that had this administration not squandered vast sums of monies, but prudently put aside something for an occurrence such as this, that we would be in a better position to hold off on the haste to do a Mayor Larry Vaughn (reel life) and a President Donald Trump (real life) Sigh!
Moreover, in the absence of a robust testing regime, it is anyone’s guess as to the full extent of Covid-19 here in our fair State. It is downright scary, especially since there are still a number of sudden and unexplained deaths. Remember, as far back as the beginning of this past April, our Minister of Health, the Honourable Molwyn Joseph was breathlessly declaring that we would be testing locally within a week. [see DAILY OBSERVER, April 3, 2020: HEALTH MINISTER SAYS LOCAL TESTING SHOULD BE AVAILABLE WITHIN A WEEK] Sigh! It was a belated April Fools joke. And the jokes about when the local testing would begin, shamelessly continued for week after week, after week, never mind that they were unfunny and nobody was laughing.
And then to add to the farce, the restrictions were eased on a weekly basis, again without the benefit of vigorous local testing. Talk about groping in the dark! Talk about “Whistling past a graveyard!” We cast our eyes heavenward, imploring the Almighty to have mercy of us! The promised testing took so long in becoming a reality that we’ve shut down for six weeks and opened back up without its widespread implementation. We submit that the Covid-19 data coming out of Antigua and Barbuda will be unreliable. We further submit that the question of testing will now almost be moot.
But wait. Not so fast! Notwithstanding the fact that Antiguans and Barbudans were clamouring for more testing, and anxiously looking for word from officialdom as to the grand opening of local testing, seems local testing began some fourteen (14) ago, under cover of night, so to speak. Think stealth testing! The bombshell announcement was made on State media by the good Dr. Lester Simon, who, this past Thursday, revealed that local testing had begun some ten days earlier. As you can imagine, the silence that followed Dr. Simon’s announcement was deafening. One could hear a pin drop on the television screen, even as the interviewer was left slack-jawed and nonplussed. He stuttered and stammered, clearly taken off his crease by the stunning revelation. Of course, the bouncer-to-the-head news came with several caveats and a long explanation. Sigh! We will leave that right there.
Look, folks. This time next week (June 4), our borders will be reopened and we will be welcoming hordes of tourists (don’t laugh) “from major source markets” according to our Minister of Tourism, Honourable Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez. The tourism folks here have flip-flopped on the question of ‘to quarantine or not to quarantine’ tourists for two weeks upon arrival. They have finally settled on no quarantine for tourists, but a fourteen-day quarantine for returning nationals. They have also decided on a byzantine set of protocols for arriving visitors as well as Customs and Immigration personnel, and taxi drivers and baggage handlers (Cabinet reports that they are being trained) at the airport, and at the resorts. It is anyone’s guess whether they are our workable. Our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, has said that we have sourced thousands of rapid-test kits with an 87% reliability and they will be arriving here . . . (sigh!) ‘next week.’ (Dammit! There’s that pesky expression, ‘next week’ again. That expression is synonymous with this administration, and it is short-hand for ‘We don’t know what the hell we are doing; we are just saying what we think the people want to hear; we are just making it up as we go along; we don’t know when our grand pronouncements will actually materialise.’) Help us, Lord!
Clearly, we need all theDivine help that we can get. And let us pray fervently for the President Trumps, (USA) the Jair Bolsonaros (Brazil) and the Larry Vaughns (JAWS) of this world. They are in a desperate haste to throw caution to the waves and open their economies. Would that they would pay heed to the classic by the ever-popular, BURNING FLAMES, SHARK AH COME! The shut-down was designed to buy us critical time. Robust testing and treatment was designed to identify and help us contain the spread of the disease. We have lagged far behind on the testing front, and this may have given us a false sense of security. We mean, the numbers reported have been so low. These low numbers occasioned the cheery report from Cabinet’s meeting on Wednesday May 20, 2020: “The Prime Minister informed that there has been no additional reporting of infections, caused by the coronavirus, during these past three weeks; only two people are being treated for this disease in Antigua and Barbuda at this time. Antigua and Barbuda is close to becoming a Covid-free destination, ready to receive tourists.” Hmmmm! Let us heed the words of Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa who cautioned (and it applies to us): “For now Covid-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths that have devastated other regions of the world. Even so, we must not be lulled into complacency as our health systems are fragile and are less able to cope with a sudden increase in cases.” As the heretofore mentioned BURNING FLAMES advises in the previously mentioned song about predatory sharks, “Swim!” We trust, for our sakes, that the Covid sharks are not among us. Remember, folks, “For when they shall say, peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” [1 Thessalonians 5:3]