Many Barbadians are old enough to remember the primary school axiom often applied when an entire class was punished for the sins of a handful: “Peter pays for Paul. And Paul pays for all.
This childhood admonition comes to the fore once again, for there are way too many Barbadian adult Peters who are behaving like children, coaxing disaster in crisis.
In the face of a virus that could potentially sicken or kill hundreds if not thousands of us, wreck homes and families, devastate our way of life, and disfigure an economy beyond all recognition, many have substituted reaction for reason.
Let us be clear. The unchecked control of infection by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is an existential threat to our island nation, a disaster management crisis, a national security imperative and a grave economic threat that could kill both economy and society, given its highly contagious nature.
The near three dozen cases reported cases of COVID-19 here create a dangerously misleading picture, as has happened in Italy, United Kingdom and the United States where the disease has been rampant. The known cases are the merest tip of the iceberg. What is particularly chilling is the growing body of knowledge scientific knowledge that suggests that people who show no symptoms of the virus go on to infect others.
We must follow the practices of physical distancing to limit the spread of the contagion. Arrogantly issuing defiant videos of opposition to curfew and spreading hatred, deviance and stigmatisation in malicious text messages bring us closer to the brink.
We are spoiling for a fight with the forces of nature, a battle with which, history presumes, we ought to have been acquainted, given our island story of tempest and pestilence.
The Great Hurricane of 1780 claimed an estimated 20,000 souls. The 1854 cholera epidemic took more than 25,000 lives – one in four Barbadians. Historians believe there are still mass graves of cholera victims in remote fields in every parish of this land, whose locations are now mostly lost through time.
Our people have suffered the privations of poverty. The infant mortality rate at the start of the previous century was so high that the trip from the womb to the tomb was as inexorable as it was brief.
All that has been forgotten now for we gorge on the fruits of social and political liberation, mindless of our enormous responsibilities as citizens and the duty of care we bear, as human beings, one to another.
Make no mistake. We are victims of Western civilisation’s success, which others may call excess. Our cavalier attitude to the serious requirements of adult conduct, fuelled by commercial enterprise, popular culture, distrust of authorities, and an abject ignorance of scientific fact and reason appear now to be a virus of devastating potential, gnawing through the slender fabric of human society in the West.
We are in danger of triggering a more draconian round of public health precautions, which may rob us of personal liberty. We thought this was a long-cherished and zealously guarded human right, particularly for a people descended from enslaved masses. Perhaps we are wrong.
As tyrants are opposed to dissent and peaceful assembly they eventually desire to want to control personal movement so we are right to hold on to our democratic principles.
But now our greatest enemy is not an international economic system or foreign government intrigues, but our own daily deeds.
As Premier of Nevis Mark Brantley adroitly observed via Twitter today: “Our greatest challenge in the Caribbean and generally in the West in the fight against #Covid19 is the indiscipline of our people. Our populace continues to mistake indiscipline for freedom.
We must #StayAtHome
This virus crisis is a category five hurricane, with the lights on and the water running. Now is not the time for mass worship of the God of Bacchus in the House of Mammon while the banks are open but the churches, mosques and temples are closed.
Barbados is in grave danger from itself, a thing we regret to say. The actions of a substantial few may be no less dangerous than the inertia of the many. Our national character in a time of crisis is on display and under threat. Now we worry that we may have seen the enemy, and it is us.
If heeding the public health authorities’ strong advice and strict regulations, respect for facts and disdain for lies, fraud, rumour, innuendo and stigma are not enough, then Mother Nature, with the wisdom of the ages, will wreak terrible vengeance upon us.
For hard-ears, we won’t hear, so own way we will feel. There is either a loss of liberty or the loss of life. We are putting ourselves in an invidious position of being forced to choose either one or the other yet suffer both.
So stay home.
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