Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Dr. V. Armogan
A great leader doesn’t have to be a visionary. A great leader would rise in the best of times and in the worst of times, because their ability to lead is not a function of the environment, but of the decisions they make based on the advisors they surround themselves with. I personally believe that we are blessed with great leadership in Barbados.
I do, however, also believe that there have been serious mistakes made in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and we have followed the world in mismanaging this crisis.
A brief look at our history with COVID is needed to chart our way forward. We all know the mistakes we made. Some may now be aware of those as hindsight is 20-20, but we should really seek out those who, way back in March/April 2020, predicted our current predicament. They are the ones who should lead the second charge.
Clearly those responsible for the first charge failed miserably. Don’t shoot the messenger! A deep dive is necessary to see how we failed BECAUSE it will determine how we move forward.
Constant statements like “we have to deal with the current crisis, there will be time for blame later..” is not good enough. No one is asking people currently involved to stop what they are doing and devote energies on this.
Form a separate committee, let them deep dive on where we went wrong. Why? So that we don’t make the same mistakes when we come out of this lockdown.
Case in point. I returned from a trip to Guyana in early December. When we landed in Barbados, even though we had been in a closed cabin for just under two hours, they asked us to deplane row by row. This prevented us from bunching up in the aisle. Well, you know Caribbean people. That process took a good 20-30 minutes. But hey, it’s COVID times, so I’m down with that.
My shock and horror came, however, when I exited the aircraft and boarded a bus to take us to the terminal. Yep, all of us. So we waited there for the 20-30 minutes, the whole plane piled onto the bus and yes, we were no longer socially distanced. I say that to say, the chain is only as good as the weakest link. And this is not an isolated incident. We need critical thinkers to assist us.
The polyclinics were overwhelmed when we had this recent outbreak and so we had people that had been exposed, people with red bands present for testing and the good Lord saw fit to let it rain. OMG.
People started sharing umbrellas and huddling in groups. So, whereas the policy may be OK, the execution is often lacking. When the policy is lacking AND the execution is poor, we are likely to have a nightmare.
Let’s look back and say what is on every right-thinking Bajan’s mind. We took too long to shut our borders in 2020. Given what was going on in the world, we acted sluggishly and irresponsibly. Our protocols for people arriving on our island were ridiculous and without logic or scientific merit. Pure luck inspired confidence. Brilliant initiatives like “work remotely with a one-year visa” have now backfired and caused massive damage to our brand due to a failure in our handling of the virus. Sadly, none of this needed to happen. Not on a small island.
Please let the madness stop now. Let’s pause, and reboot. But reboot with common sense dictating the way forward.
While this Government has enjoyed the love of its citizens, our concern is mounting, and discontent is rising. A look at our neighbours shows the same basic lack of understanding in handling of the crisis. Economists are not the people who should be in charge of a medical crisis. Nor lawyers. Which basically is most politicians.
The problem with doctors, generally, is that they are timid and thus can be used brilliantly for press-conferences as a little pressure on them goes a long way. It is their nature. Pull a doctor aside and ask them if the protocols used for travellers were adequate and see if you get the “official version.
Doubtful. I’m not saying that our government bullied the doctors directly (like Trump and Faucci) but I am saying that in a small society many individuals don’t speak out when they should. However, a democracy cannot survive and flourish if we don’t take our individual responsibilities seriously.
Honestly, in 2021, we don’t even have to rely on the doctors. Any right-thinking individual doing a little bit of research will figure out the correct protocols, as have most Bajan’s, and thus their anger is justified when we end up with massive infections and deaths.
So, let’s stop pressuring the doctors and allow them to deal with this medical pandemic. Let’s take their recommendations and find a way to make them work, not massage to suit our economic advisor’s version.
Birds of a Feather. I laugh in disbelief when I see the accolades piling on from one Caribbean PM to another, and from international agencies like the WHO, on how well we have done (last year). Statistically, we didn’t do any better than any other small nation.
Little Anguilla had three infections and no deaths. So clearly, our policies (alone) were not what kept us safe. It was blind luck. The solution is right here with our intelligent citizens. We don’t need to rely on organisations like the WHO for the solutions, they too have their politics.
Remember, it was the same WHO that on June 5, 2020 finally said it may be beneficial to wear masks to protect yourself from an AIRBORNE viral disease! Really? You mean all the data from the SARS epidemic and the wearing of masks wasn’t a clue?
Waiting on others to help us out of this dilemma is really not a great option, in my opinion. So let’s apply common sense and COVID know-how to get ourselves out of the mess. Let’s use the resources of other countries and international organisations to assist us in that effort.
For example, we have the new variant here. What that means is that if the average person needed to inhale 100 COVID particles to become infected, with the new variant you may only need about 30- 40.
So that means we have to increase our protection with our masks. As such, bandanas should be immediately burned and cloth masks, even though fashionable and cute, are not going to cut it. Cloth masks are, after all, only about 60 per cent effective while a surgical mask is about 90-95 per cent effective in blocking the virus. And maybe we have to start taping down our masks so that we don’t allow this new variant to sneak in from the sides. The same way you fog up your glasses means that air is getting out of your mask – which logically means that air can get in without being filtered.
The BEST thing for us, as individuals, is to not catch it. We know that there are medical issues with those that get COVID LONG TERM. So, the fewer Barbadians who contract it, the better.
When we come out of lockdown, we have a few choices.
(1) GET COVID FREE
(2) CONTINUE TO LIMP ALONG
The government will clearly choose option two, as it has worked so well in the past (sarcasm). By so doing, schools will remain closed and most businesses will have to limp along and we can expect further lockdowns, more deaths, more infections, more wasted money on PPE and, having missed the traditional tourist season, limp into 2022.
If we are going down that path, then we need the following immediately post-lockdown:
(1) Access to medical masks
(2) National contact tracing apps
(3) Rapid antigen tests for the population to purchase and self-identify illness
(4) Lifting of Duties, Taxes and VAT on all Covid-related supplies and equipment
(5) Quarantine of individuals entering our island for 14 days with two negative PCR tests 48-hours apart
These should have all been in place since last year, but now that we’ve gotten the inevitable wake-up call (ie current COVID statistics), let’s not dilly dally.
Now, if we want to be visionary, why not get us COVID-free? A small island with only 300,000 people is not overly-challenging to get COVID-free. Once COVID-free, ALL businesses reopen.ALL. Schools start back. Restaurants, cinemas, offices – everything re-opens fully.
No more unemployment.
Cargo can still enter and exit our island. Humans bring the disease. While the virus may survive on surfaces up to 3+ days, we just have to sanitise it – UVC lights, misting, letting it sit for five days before touching it – you decide. But wow, it would be so nice to see all the truckers working again, and the delivery people, and the brokers, gas stations etc.
But Barbados cannot survive with just us – we need tourists! True. Not that any are flying right now. Canadians are not expected before May 1st. Most of our suppliers of tourists are in lockdown anyway. But true, we do want them. And when they are ready to come, they can.
In our COVID-free world, they don’t even need to quarantine. They come, get transferred to their all-inclusive hotel, have a great time and leave. It doesn’t matter if they have COVID or not. We will protect our staff by putting measures in place as designed by the medical community.
We will test our hotel workers daily if necessary. And if, God forbid, one of our own gets infected? In the unlikely event of such a mishap, we will spot it quickly and will know where they have been due to our contact tracing app. But remember, if we go this route, we will also design the model properly. Strict protocols and measures in place. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s possible. As the owner of a small hotel that used to employ around 40 people, I’m willing to do what it takes to bring back guests safely.
For this country to reopen after the lockdown, we need to see the stats. What has changed? Are there new protocols in place? What is different on February 18th vs Feb 3rd? Are there new measures that make sense? When will schools reopen? When can we see regular numbers of people in our businesses?
Like most Barbadians, I am scared. I am also mad. I’m angry and upset because I know it didn’t have to come to this. We could have, and can, do a WHOLE lot better.
Yes, the vaccines are coming. We are beggars and will take whichever one we can get. We have no idea which one is the best one for our ethnicity and population with our high rate of NCDs, but hey, when the virus is running amuck and your only choice is a vaccine because we didn’t adequately protect our population, let’s reach out to those agencies that can assist and get whatever they can obtain for us.
Boy, I wished I lived on an island. I would have it COVID-free, everyone working, feting, going to school, enjoying Crop-Over and waiting to figure out which vaccine was the best for my people, then get it when it was available and all the data was in.
Oh shoot, we DO live on an island! Crap. Back to the drawing board.
Dr. V. Armogan is an Orthodontist and President of the Barbados Dental Association. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry; a Doctor of Dental Surgery; Master’s of Science in Dentistry and is a Certified Orthodontist. He is an
outside-the-box thinker and disruptor in several platforms including C4DT (Center For Disruptive Transformation). As a serial entrepreneur, hotelier, restaurateur, real-estate and construction owner, he has a unique ability to see problems in different lights.