As the saying goes, there are two things in life that are absolutely certain – death and taxes. But for some, and luckily so, one can add family. For as much as we might like to undo it, we have to accept that in all families there will be the proverbial “crazy uncle”, prone to embarrassing the clan at the most awkward moments.
That’s the situation in which our Caribbean family has found itself as we seek the most appropriate path out of the COVID-19 morass. The lockdowns were part of the national and regionally-coordinated efforts to combat the novel coronavirus that has infected millions and killed countless around the world.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as well as partners outside of the 15-member grouping such as associate member Cayman Islands and long-time friend of the region, Cuba, shared precious resources and human capital at a time when some of our much richer and more endowed allies hoarded vital equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The much-maligned World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised the Caribbean for the efficient and proactive handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Haiti and the Dominican Republic who share borders being the outliers.
We were prepared to bite the bullet. We closed our beaches, churches and stopped all sporting activities. Businesses, schools, and all non-essential operations were ordered shut. The decision cost thousands of jobs, but it may have saved countless lives. We insisted on the wearing of masks and there was no partisan divide about the matter.
Much to the surprise of some, including our own citizens, we offered cruise ships safe harbour when they were being denied such humanitarian aid in the COVID-19 storm. And most importantly, Barbados facilitated the repatriation of thousands of weary but thankful passengers and crew members to their homes in all corners of the globe.
After wrestling with the disease for almost four months, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to boost our healthcare infrastructure and to give financial support to those who were forced on the breadline, we are now in a position to start reopening the country to “normal” activity.
And now that Barbados and ordinary citizens in the region have put in the hard work, almost imploded our economies, tested thousands, undertook the tedious work of contact tracing and treating, mourned and prayed through this horrendous period to bring COVID-19 infections down to the level where there are very few active cases, to our dismay and horror, we are now being lumped in with Latin America and our crazy uncle from Brazil, president Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the worst COVID-19 infection rate and mishandling of the pandemic in the hemisphere, second only to the United States.
With a heavy reliance on tourism and the travel trade to boost our economies, the Caribbean cannot be tainted and our efforts undermined because of the downright murderous approach of leaders in Latin American, like Jair Bolsonaro who dared to fly dangerously close to the sun.
Now Brazil, with its millions of vulnerable people, tries to stage a last-minute assault on a disease that has overwhelmed health services and the economy, killed thousands, further threatened the Amazon jungle to which many are fleeing, and plunged the Americas in more chaos.
To make matters worse for us in the Caribbean, the major news outlets around the world are widely reporting that “Latin American and the Caribbean has passed the 100 000 death rate” for COVID-19.
‘It is a label that the region does not deserve. Not after the hell and sacrifices we have been through for the past three to four months.
“Most English-speaking Caribbean countries have had extremely low death rates from the illness due to the mature and steady management by political and health officials.
It is a sad commentary of the time but it is incumbent upon us to fight against a communications battle because of our crazy uncles while trying to save millions from a microbe’s worst.
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