One cannot deny that Government is trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in the island as best as it can. But thus far, there are many who would argue its best has been far from being good enough. Government has erred in some instances – which is human. But the Mia Mottley administration appears so entrapped in a May 2018 time warp, that while the crisis increases, it is seemingly intent on a public relations blitzkrieg, rather than tightening up on administrative inefficiencies.
A recent press conference hosted by the very capable Ambassador Liz Thompson provided evidence of Government’s preoccupation with image. In the midst of an otherwise enlightening discussion, splendidly hosted by the Ambassador, she asked Maryland, Washington resident Rev Dr Kirtley Yearwood, a Barbados-born medical doctor, basically to give his view on how the COVID-19 crisis was being handled in Barbados. The question was not surprising and the answer quite predictable. Yearwood’s glowing assessment from afar was very reminiscent of the ten out of ten former President Donald Trump gave himself in response to a similar question asked by a reporter last year in the United States. We can appreciate if there are some in Government who prefer a script depicting them in a fashion that mimics Swedish poet Carl Boberg’s hymn “How Great Thou Art”. But there are thousands of Barbadians who would prefer other questions being answered that could mean the difference between their life and death.
This is no time for Government to be attempting to pat itself on the back in circumstances where systems to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Barbados have fallen short. There are individuals who have been tested for COVID-19 and their swabs have gone missing. That does not look great while basking in praise. There are Barbadians who have been tested and sent back home to self-isolate with other family members before their results are known and without supervision or guarantees that they will indeed stay put. There is no cause there to pat oneself on the back. There are infected members of the disabled community whose only contact with persons outside their homes have been while receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
We are told of one such visually impaired member of that community who recently succumbed to this dreaded virus following treatment at the hospital for a non-related condition and in circumstances where no one else in her household was infected. That is a zero on the report card. The faster results are returned to patients the better, as backlog of cases carries inherent problems especially as it relates to subsequent movement of people. There are persons in this depressed economic climate who cannot afford to pay one hundred dollars for rapid tests and this should not be a hindrance for these processes not to be all handled with dispatch.
The death of Barbadians, especially the elderly, into whose homes COVID-19 found its way is one of our greatest tragedies. It has become a familiar, and quite frankly, upsetting addendum, when officials link such deaths to underlying pre-existing conditions. It is a fact that some elderly individual might have been a diabetic, hypertensive, have kidney issues, or some other problem. But these statements from our officials seem not to take into account that these citizens might have been managing their conditions exceptionally well or might not have been manifestly ailing from their conditions. Thus, they died not primarily because of their pre-existing conditions as the script is being continuously presented, but they expired because our systems failed them – whether Government’s or their families – and facilitated COVID-19 into the country and into their homes.
We often wonder if our state agencies have databases with information with respect to elderly persons who live alone or might be infirm. What is the Ministry of Elder Affairs doing with respect to these individuals, who will require assistance in this pandemic even more so than before? Perhaps, taxpayers should really be asking if there is still a Ministry of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs? With this virus being particularly lethal towards the elderly, the absence, silence, or both, of the minister responsible for this foundational cohort of our society is glaringly apparent.
We appreciate government’s frequent press conferences to enlighten the public on relevant issues but those with unblinkered eyes will not confuse a public relations blitzkrieg with action. Barbadians want to see action at a level that supersedes talk and press conferences. The trucks that are driving through districts with a political voice blaring from a microphone are most welcome. But perhaps persons in the trucks could get out and check on the old lady who lives alone, is physically incapacitated and has been trying to reach her Member of Parliament since early December. That would make for better optics than a roaming vehicle, carbon dioxide and all.
Barbadians must take responsibility for their actions and commit to adhering to best practices as outlined by our medical professionals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. As has our police officers, soldiers, and others on the frontline. It must be stressed that as the rollout of vaccines begins, people must not get the impression that this intervention is a cure. It is not. COVID-19 remains with us and we must not let down our guards. And while we hold ourselves to account, we must also hold Government to account.
We implore the Mia Mottley administration that this is not the time to be politicking. You have been given a magnificent mandate. You are the Government. Some say for the next 15 years. Others say for the next two. But that is unimportant at this stage. What is critical is that Government appreciates that it still has the confidence of the people and must therefore make every effort to strengthen administrative, procedural and implementation strategies in this fight against COVID-19. And the politics be damned.