Let’s pull together, not to pieces

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The song was written by Shelley Tobitt and sung by King Short Shirt back in the day. It was given new life, and arguably rendered all the more poignant with its soulful treatment by the incomparable Arlen Seaton as vocalist, and the virtuoso, Dr. George Roberts, on the piano. It became the de facto theme song for last year’s Independence Day celebrations. We’re talking about PULL TOGETHER, and we submit that in dread times like these, it is the need of the hour. The time will come for the post-mortem (pardon the pun); the time to deconstruct the false starts, the missteps, the inertia, the false statements, the downright lies of this administration in its entire COVID-19 response and planning. Or woeful lack thereof. And believe you us, there is ample evidence to suggest that this administration, with its patented pie-in-the sky nonsense and sweet-sounding fluff, has been a laggard in our COVID-19 preparation.

Consider, if you will, the hemming and hawing this past Friday when the Minister of Health, Mr. Molwyn Joseph, with his trademark sweet-talk, couldn’t say why the COVID-19 hotline was not already set up, or when it would actually be ready. There was the standard press-conference fare about technical glitches and all that sort of tiresome stuff. Of course, the impression that many people got at that COVID-19 announcement that we had our first confirmed case was that the Ministry was scrambling to set up the hotline. Sigh!  His explanation about the incompletion of the retrofitting of the Margetson’s Ward as an Isolation and Quarantine unit also did not inspire confidence. So too, the estimated time of arrival of our own testing equipment. But there will be time enough for the finger-pointing and armchair-quarterbacking, just not now. By the way, the COVID-19 hotline number is 462 6843, and the authorities are requesting that folks exhibiting flu-like symptoms call the hotline instead of showing up at the Mount St. John’s Emergency department.

Look folks, we hold no brief for this administration. We have found those in high places in this regime to be authoritarian, less than forthcoming, and given to making promises that they seldom keep. For example, the latest by the good Minister of Works, Mr. Lennox Weston, is that the ADOMS building will be completed shortly. Sigh! We have heard that vain promise before. Needless to say, at this point, were it not for the millions of dollars that have already gone down a black hole, nobody would really care about it. So jaded have we become!

Having said that, we wish to give Jack Sprat his jacket. We are happy for the quick turnaround in the testing and identifying of the first coronavirus case here in Antigua and Barbuda. The young lady arrived here via a British Airways flight on the tenth, and by the evening of the twelfth, the positive result was known to us. The quarantine procedures were quickly put in place. We also wish to applaud the closure of the UWI Five Islands campus, all the public secondary and primary schools, and places like the National Public Library, the National Museum and the National Archives. People who can work at home, ought to be encouraged so to do. The refusal of berthing privileges to two cruise vessels was also great, as was the decision to stop the weekly Italian charter plane from bringing anymore visitors from Italy.

Meanwhile, the pledge by the authorities to step up more robust screening of yachts is also commendable. So too, the action by some government and statutory bodies like the Social Security Board to suspend interviews and appointments on Social Security matters for the rest of this week, and to institute stricter floor control measures immediately. We expect more of the same from many other entities in our fair State. For example, the authorities at Her Majesty’s Prison have suspended all outside visits to inmates.

Intriguingly, Our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, has pooh-poohed any suggestion that we close our borders to traffic from the United Kingdom and the United States. He is of the mind that by so doing, we would be driving a stake in the heart of our already-struggling economy. The PM’s decision will be subject to vigorous debate in the days and weeks and months ahead, especially in light of the fact that many countries around the world have, in effect, sealed their borders in some form or another, from select regions and countries. We’re talking about Germany (closed to all Europe), Canada, Trinidad and Tobago (no cruise ships) and the United States (closed to traffic from Europe). Meanwhile, France, Italy and Spain have told their populations to stay at home for two weeks. Seems, these countries, never mind that their economies are bigger and more diversified than ours, are weighing the health risks to their populations against the economic considerations.  And talking about economic considerations, in light of the many cruise ship cancellations, Heritage Quay resembled an abandoned town in the Old West yesterday. It will be a rough next few weeks for businesses, taxi drivers, tour operators and souvenir vendors, who were already complaining, even before the rapid-fire COVID-19 developments, of this year’s sluggish cruise tourism season – one of the worst in recent memory.

Our Prime Minister, and the political leader of the opposition, United Progressive Party, Mr. Harold Lovell, have spoken in statesmanlike terms of the need to unite against a common enemy – COVID-19. They have said that we are waging a war against an insidious disease that knows no political colours or stripes. No need to pull to pieces and cause panic and fear to be spread among the people. We must do our part by joining forces against this dastardly threat to us all. And remember, COVID-19 is no respecter of persons – not privilege, power, position, or prestige. It is an equal-opportunity offender! Even the Holy Father, Pope Francis, had to be screened after he displayed flu-like symptoms and was forced to cancel a few public engagements. The head of the Iranian counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi, was found to have contracted the virus, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, chose to self-quarantine after his wife tested positive for COVID-19. The French Culture Minister, Franck Riester, is also positive, as is England’s Health Minister, Nadine Dorries.

Clearly, our leaders, health professionals, first responders, immigration officials, and so on and so forth, are just as vulnerable, as are we. Perhaps, even more so. They will need our support, cooperation and prayer. When this crisis is over however, we will then look back and see what worked and what didn’t. We will applaud the things that went well.  And we will shake our heads over the things that didn’t. Then we will give this administration a swift kick in the pants. Because, believe it folks, this administration never misses an opportunity to screw-up! Of course, in the case of this COVID-19, we hope that our worst fears are not realised, and that our government will pleasantly surprise us. Sigh! We believe that we will get our first impartial report on our level of preparedness from the Pan American Health Organisation officials who are currently here. Stay tuned, folks. Watch this space.

We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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