Poet William Wordsworth reminds us “Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.”
Wordsworth’s admonishment is poignant as we watch in real time the deteriorating situation in our backyard as neighbours Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago battle positive COVID-19 cases which are now presenting daily by the hundreds.
With Jamaica in the throes of an intense general election, it has resorted to members of its constabulary force on the streets of Half-Way Tree, St Andrew arresting citizens for failing to wear their face coverings while in public. The offenders are being charged under that country’s Disaster Risk Management Act after 245 COVID-19 positive cases were reported in just 24 hours.
Dr Alverston Bailey, a respected physician and former president of the Medical Association of Jamaica offered a most ominous warning to his countrymen. He insisted that on the current trajectory of infections, “the real spike is going to come in October . . . . and by then, we will have a similar situation to what happened in New York”.
In a two week period ending last Saturday, Jamaica recorded 1, 107 new cases increasing the positivity rate by 54 per cent. To make matters worse, 10 Jamaican nurses have tested positive and 50 of their colleagues are in quarantine.
Next door in Trinidad and Tobago, Government has instituted another debilitating island-wide shut-down due to the rapid increase in cases following that country’s general election campaign. What is puzzling for many observers is the fact that for months, the twin-island republic has kept its borders closed to international travel except for approved repatriation flights.
This could only mean that the republic currently has a serious problem in community spread on its hands, making it doubly difficult for the country to reopen to regular travel if the local situation is already burdening the national health care system and resources.
Why is this important for us in Barbados? The developments come at a time when the country has learned in the most offhanded manner that COVID-19 czar Richard Carter will apparently not be returning to the seconded position with the Barbados Government.
Much was made of Mr. Carter’s appointment to the important position. His voice was one of authority and one that offered firm direction on Government’s stand when it came to matters relating to the infectious disease. We benefited from the sociologist’s experience of working as a change agent in the African nation of Sierra Leon as it fought the deadly Ebola disease.
With very few live media briefings by key Health Ministry officials in recent months, the public has been left with smithereens of information about the positive cases, recoveries and total tests conducted.
The Jamaica example for reopening the economy and the tourism sector appears to be nothing short of a failure as the administration there has been accused of reopening without a sufficiently rigorous mobilization of the population and enforcement of COVID-19 protocols. Even more dangerous was the decision of political parties to hold campaign meetings, motorcades and other events fully aware of the risks of community spread on the island.
Wordsworth called on us to “learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future”. And we are uniquely placed to appreciate the dangers of not heeding the messages of our health officials and community leaders to do all in our power to limit the spread of this disease. We certainly do not need to touch the flames to know that they burn.
And as much as citizens complained about the sometimes “harsh” style of the COVID-19 czar, we knew the truths of his message. We know how devastating it would be for this country if community spread were to take hold.
With the reopening of our economy and the return of international travel, the number of positive cases has been inching up. Let us learn from our neighbours and hold fast to the protocols that will keep us safe. And to our Government, we call for continued vigilance, particularly of those persons entering Barbados, whose presence we welcome but whose COVID-19 health status must be assured.