This is not the time to panic.
But it is surely the occasion for all citizens of Barbados to adhere to every protocol prescribed by our medical professionals and advised by Government, to prevent further spread of COVID-19 or at least to slow its sudden and rampant surge.
Though it is not in the nature of a government to accept blame when things go wrong but gleefully absorb praise when situations go right, the Barbados Government and many of our citizens and visitors dropped the proverbial ball on this pandemic. We were all educated on what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, much of what we had to do went against our basic human nature and it was not difficult to let our guards down. But there is a need for resolve by all citizens. There is also a need for complete honesty by Government, a deviation from reliance on public relations to plaster over errors and distancing from an attitude of pointing an accusatorial finger at the populace while ignoring the thumb that points in the opposite direction.
No member of Government has ever dealt with a pandemic. There has been none previously in our lifetime and mistakes have been made and more might be. Some have attempted to berate the leadership of Prime Minister Mia Mottley, especially with her decision not to shut down the country, as some in the medical and political fraternity have already suggested. But truth be told, Miss Mottley has brought a calming, collective and confident disposition to this situation that has been most reassuring. The seat of leadership can be a lonely place. Persons not sitting in that chair frequently appear to have all the answers and solutions, mostly because they do not have to make the decisions. Shutting down the country is not an easy decision and she runs the risk of further crippling an already broken economy. Those calling for a shutdown do not have the responsibility of providing the fix. She does. If the decision is made to pull down the shutters then we will all have to grapple with it. If it is not made, then we must commit to doing the things which we ought to have done before letting our collective guards down.
In such health crises, our medical experts are the ones who should be leading the charge or at least inspiring confidence by deeds and words. We cannot state what our Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George has been doing behind the scenes – though we believe his deeds have been assiduous – but his words have inspired little confidence. Rather than speak plainly to a Barbadian public that is not devoid of commonsense, he has often chosen to submerge himself in stumbling semantics and evasive responses. The facts, man! Just the facts! There is community spread of the coronavirus in Barbados and whether Dr George wants to trip over his tongue with explanations of clusters, pockets or even jumping jack rabbits, there are persons being tested positive for COVID-19 who have not been the subject of contact tracing by health officials.
To put this bluntly, there is evidence of persons not known to authorities or not identified by authorities or not located by authorities or not on the radar of authorities, who have taken their own initiative to be tested and have returned positive results. If businesses, police stations, ports of entry, restaurants, hotels, government offices, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, polyclinics, et al, are either confirming COVID-19 cases or closing to accommodate massive sanitization as a result of exposure to the virus, then why are we splitting hairs over words such as community or clusters? This environment is not conducive to spin, doublespeak and most of all, attempts at meaningless public relations. Authorities, health especially, must be brutally blunt with Barbadians on every aspect of this crisis.
And where solutions are concerned, if it has not yet been undertaken, police officers and/or soldiers ought to be stationed and rotated at all quarantine centres to ensure that persons mandated to remain indoors comply with that specific protocol. It is particularly baffling that with a high-priced consultant on law and order attached to Government, that this was not implemented from the very first installation of quarantine centres, especially at hotels. Common sense should have dictated that it could not be left up to hotel staff or those security officers on slave wages, to police such a serious situation. It is believed that the presence of such a show of force was not initially desired by those in the hospitality industry but the nature of this pandemic should have been enough to toss those sentiments into a rubbish bin.
Yes, Government has goofed. Many of us have as well. But the country is blessed with highly competent professionals in key positions of the ilk of Dr Corey Forde who has been inspiring, Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic whose star has risen significantly in this crisis and Hospital Director Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland whose job at that facility has now become even more taxing. Barbados will find it significantly more difficult dealing with this crisis in an atmosphere of division and panic. The proverbial horse bolted out of the stable way ahead of the bus crawl but it is not beyond recapture.