We do not purport to be scientists. Indeed, we do not assume to be imbued with the scholarly attributes that might flow through the crania of those who have taken up the mantle of societal leadership in Barbados, whether in the political or scientific field. What we can attest to, though, is an understanding that not all science is exact, neither its explanations. Additionally, politics is often more deliberately abstract than it is infrequently exact.
Barbadians must not panic in the face of COVID-19. But this is an age where the dissemination of information – true or false – is a cellular phone away and responses to such are not always predictable. Information is leaked in the best of times but perhaps more so in the worst of times. It is leaked by politicians, often to serve their own self interests. It is also leaked by doctors, nurses, police officers, priests, pharmacists, postmen, et al, inclusive of the village idiot. Facts can be mixed with fiction but often the source of the information is the test of its veracity. People leak information because their lives and that of their families could be compromised in an environment of secrecy. The presence of COVID-19 in Barbados is such that information will come from many quarters and especially from those whose lives are being affected by it.
Government and its agents’ responses cannot and should not be concentrated on controlling the COVID-19 narrative to ensure that they look good, or that they appear to have control of the situation because government is supposed to have control. This government has invested lots of taxpayers’ dollars since 2018 in ensuring that “it looks good”. And to be fair, compared to what preceded it for the previous five, it has. But as it tries feverishly to bring the pandemic under control, rather than be forthright with relevant information, it is consumed with controlling the COVID-19 narrative to appear in control and blameless in the wake of the current spike. This is new territory and any government is deserving of understanding and forgiveness if it errs. There is no point in playing the blame game. This is the time for transparency, action and compliance.
It is within such an environment that questions being raised by those compelled to leak information about the Government ought to be answered. The spike has caught Government with its slip around the ankles and one of the questions being asked is why are some Barbadians still under quarantine when many visitors to the island have been quarantined after locals and have since been released? Some professionals are querying if there is an absence of the reagent used in the testing process at the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory, that has slowed results being returned to hundreds of Barbadians. If there is a shortage of supply, when will it be replenished? Some are also asking if Government’s acquisition of testing equipment with smaller capacity than the larger more costly version recommended by health officials has contributed to delays in the return of results. Those in the security services are questioning the situation with the monitoring devices for persons on quarantine. They want Government to respond to allegations that while it has purchased electronic monitoring devices, it has not obtained the software to operate them and this is not helping the fight against COVID-19. With international suppliers to Barbados experiencing their own shortages of equipment, the village idiot is wondering why Government’s narrative needs to suggest that all is well on that front.
In the wake of emergency legislation to assist with the management of the pandemic, many are querying if some of their constitutional rights have been made null and void. Are health and security workers being asked or compelled to work upwards of 14 hours daily because of political directives? Are COVID-19 negative prison officers sleeping in their cars at Her Majesty’s Prisons, Dodds, because permission to go home has been denied? Are COVID-19 negative prison officers still at Hilton Hotel since December 31? Many are contending that behind the façade of control which Government is attempting to display, the situation has become so overwhelming that its boiling point is surging at the same rate as the virus’ spike.
While experts busy themselves tiptoeing between interpretations of clusters and community spread, it seems not to have dawned on anyone that the miniscule size of Barbados renders the island one ‘big’ cluster. Thus, it rings as comical when our experts talk about clusters in the north, clusters in the south, east and west, as though these clusters are on Culpepper Island or the middle of the Atlantic. Though Government has seen it fit to identify only the bus crawl cluster but not the others, especially the one on the west coast, all the clusters are in Barbadian communities and they are spreading. So, spare us the tongue-twisters and semantics.
Some might believe that Government is boxing in the dark and hoping to land punches. But we have no doubt it is trying as hard as it can to deal with this situation. Prime Minister Mia Mottley is as patriotic a Barbadian as one is to find on these shores. But until a safe, viable vaccine is available to all Barbadians, openness in deeds and not mere words, more transparency and less public relations, will go a long way to returning a sense of equilibrium to a troubled nation.