For those old enough to remember, posters advertising Jaws 2, the 1979 sequel to the blockbuster movie, carried the tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water”.
The past few days have been a disaster movie in its own right. For just as it seemed that we in Barbados were relatively safe from COVID-19 and could feel a little more “free” in 2021, the new year has started with a massive surge in new cases. Within the space of five days, we have moved from a total of 395 confirmed cases to 692, with some 186 of those cases being attributed to “the mother of all bus crawls” on Boxing Day.
That excursion has had major repercussions since it involved some members of our security forces and essential workers, including army soldiers, prison guards and health care workers.
Official figures up to Saturday placed the total number of known active cases at 285. That number included 121 inmates at the prison, 121 at the Harrison’s Point COVID-19 hospital, 10 at various villas and another 32 that were being clinically assessed.
There were then 86 new positive COVID-19 cases on Monday and Tuesday out of the 3062 tests conducted by the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory. They comprised both visitors and locals. There are now 361 persons in isolation.
Yes, these cases all surfaced allegedly via events held over the Christmas holidays, but we must ask ourselves whether we became too complacent in the six months following our lockdown period between April and June 2020.
We still don’t know what really led to the situation at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, where 49 employees and 121 inmates have tested positive. We find it hard to believe that one bus crawl in the past week that a few prison officers attended could have led to so many positive COVID-19 tests in our sole penal institution. When these tests are done, is there any real way of determining how long the patients in question would have had the condition?
We are pleased to hear that the Ministry of Health is considering the use of specialised GPS-enabled bracelets that can track the whereabouts of people who arrive in the island during their mandatory quarantine period.
It is clear the original bands, said to red in most cases,, was not very effective although there were security features built into it. We must also bear in mind that some of the hotels and guest houses where the visitors stayed were operating with reduced staff, and when people are determined enough to get out, they will find ways, sometimes underhand ones, to achieve their goals.
How often did officers from the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit pass through these facilities to check that everything was in order? Indeed, were the facilities expected to report to the Unit on a daily basis how things were faring with the quarantined people, not only in terms of their health, but whether they were sticking to the rules they were asked to follow on their arrival?
While we cancelled Crop Over and many other mass events over the past year, we did give permission to stage entertainment events of various kinds. Maybe there were some restrictions we should have kept, like the ones limiting the numbers to 150, or possibly even lower than that based on last weekend’s statistics. Yes, all of the events staged in our ‘post lockdown period’ carried disclaimers stating, “All COVID-19 protocols will be in effect” and we are sure the promoters and people they employed at their events to make good on that did their jobs in terms of getting the contact information, checking the temperatures, sanitising the patrons and making sure they had masks and kept them on.
But of course, we all need to breathe at some time so it is only natural the masks may have come down at some time to facilitate that, and in a venue with over 150 people, no matter how vigilant you are, you cannot possibly spot everyone who takes a mask off. Besides that, all venues have bathroom facilities and other areas where people can go out of sight of the main auditorium or dance floor. And as is the case with the accommodation sector, no matter how many security cameras or officers are in place, there are certain locations that are off-limits to personal scrutiny.
And let us not forget, not every social gathering would have been advertised openly on radio or other traditional media. We would have still had house parties, picnics, beach limes and other smaller gatherings of families and friends where the organisers would have messaged would-be patrons via Whatsapp or their personal social media channels. Heaven only knows what took place at some of those events! Therefore, we suggest that people associated with any event of that nature come forward and get tested as well, especially if they know that no protocols were in effect.
Another question that keeps coming up of late is whether we should make the wearing of masks mandatory, as other jurisdictions have done. Prime Minister Mia Mottley has ruled it out thus far, but it is an option we may have to consider. We must also ask, are doctors allowed to grant permission to their patients with respiratory ailments not to wear masks, and issue them with a certificate to that effect? With reports that there are people around Barbados saying they have been granted such permission and are refusing to wear masks when asked to do so at places of business, we need some clarity on this.
We are definitely not out of the woods yet. In fact, we seem to have plunged ourselves deeper into the forest. When you are given a course of antibiotics to treat a health condition, doctors recommend that you take them for the designated time period regardless of how you may be feeling. Therefore, we recommend that if you are in quarantine, regardless of what your initial test results say and how you may be feeling, stay there for the designated time frame, and don’t roam all over the place until you are sure your results are negative. And when it is time to start roaming, remember we still have protocols in place, and follow them.
We may have dropped our guard before, but now we must ensure we do not make the same mistake again. It is not easy to deal with all the restrictions on personal movement and activities, but like any medication, it will ideally be for our greater good.