The sky is not falling

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Most of us are familiar with the childhood story of Chicken Little, he who was hit in the head by a falling acorn. Chicken had no idea what hit him, and he began to panic in his ignorance. Indeed, he foolishly thought that the world was ending, and he frantically ran to anyone who would listen, to proclaim the end of time.

Sadly, we here in Antigua and Barbuda have a few such fear-mongering Chickens – purveyors of doom and gloom and imminent death. They seem to think that some nebulous purpose will be served from trafficking in unfounded claims, such as the wild-eyed rumour on social media that there was a COVID-19 case at the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC). The MSJMC has emphatically rubbished this “misinformation.” Especially the claim by those fear-mongerers that the MSJMC is engaging in a cover-up of the case at the hospital. Good grief! Look at the panic that that nonsense can cause!

A noted Infectious Disease expert, Dr. Abdu Sharkawy of the University of Toronto in Canada, opines that the coronavirus panic may be worse than the disease itself. In suggesting that people’s exaggerated reactions could do more damage than the malady, the good doctor declared that, “The disease is indeed dangerous. but the often self-interested measures to contain it, are in some cases, proving worse. I am not scared of COVID-19.  I’m a doctor, and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I have been at this for more than twenty years, seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, hepatitis, TB, SARS, measles, shingles, whooping cough, diphtheria, . . . there is little that I haven’t been exposed to in my profession. And with the notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared. What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front-line healthcare providers, and instead, are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others.” [BUSINESS INSIDER] We have also heard and seen footage of panicked Jamaicans clearing store shelves. Hmmm! Fellow Antiguans and Barbudans, let us not yield to our irrational fears. Often-times, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” [President Franklin D. Roosevelt]

As we have said here in these very editorial pages [THE DAILY OBSERVER, February 28, 2020], and as PM Browne recently declared, the COVID-19 is not an automatic death sentence. Especially if one is not elderly or afflicted with an underlying chronic health condition, or a compromised immune system. The great majority of the people who contract the disease will recover. In fact, seventy percent of those who contracted it in China have already recovered. Moreover, China, the country from which COVID-19 originated, is suggesting that it has passed the peak of the epidemic. Seems, there is a light, be it ever so faint, at the end of the COVID tunnel. At least, in China.

Unfortunately, the news does not appear to be so good in other parts of the world. In fact, just two days ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially dubbed COVID-19 a pandemic. According to WHO’s Director General, In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.  There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.” Indeed, here in the Caribbean, we have two confirmed cases in Jamaica, one in Guyana, one in Martinique, two in St. Martin, three in Cuba, one in St. Barthelemy, five in the Dominican Republic, one in Trinidad, and one in St. Vincent. [WORLDOMETER] Mercifully, we have not yet had a confirmed case here in our fair State, and we are doing the very best to ensure that it stays that way. Never mind the conventional wisdom that it is not a matter of IF we will get a case, but rather, WHEN. 

Unlike in the United States where President Donald Trump has been severely criticised for essentially doing “too little too late,” notwithstanding his one-month travel ban on airlines from Europe, or in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response has been described as “the corona chaos . . . no appearances, no speech, no leadership in the crisis” [BILD Newspaper], our authorities appear to be on top of things. Health Minister Molwyn Joseph and the other members of the team have been issuing daily updates and safety advisories, and it appears that work is continuing, as a matter of urgency, on the Isolation and Quarantine facility at the old Margetson’s Ward.  Kudos to them.

Of course, we have heard reports from their offices that two samples have been sent off to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) testing site in Trinidad, and we are trusting that they will turn up negative. We are praying! You see folks, we here at NEWSCO subscribe to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s declaration that “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

But prayer, much like “faith, without works is dead.” It accomplisheth nothing! Yes, prayer without action is mere noise. Plenty noise! In that regard, we urge our brothers and sisters to do the works to minimise our exposure to the virus – stay tuned for the latest updates from the Ministry of Health, follow all the guidelines set by the health experts – washing hands frequently, refraining from touching face, mouth and nose, avoiding confined crowded spaces and being careful around people that are sneezing or coughing.

The turning back of some cruise vessels at our port, the precaution with the charter flights from Italy, and the recent decision to stay away from the CARIFTA Games, as well as the exploring of the possibility of staggering Carnival events, and perhaps cancelling Sailing Week, are all prudent steps. We’re acting out of an abundance of caution. True, out economy will take an enormous hit, as have all the economies worldwide, but again, we’re talking “the ounce of prevention over the whole pound of cure.”    

Meanwhile, we urge those Chicken Littles given to yelling fire in this crowded theatre, to refrain from so doing.

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