The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those global developments that, based on the current circumstances, we are likely to be grappling with for years to come.
There was an expectation and hope, that by the end of 2020, this disease would have run its course. Vaccines were developed in record time, in response to the threat not only to human life, but to livelihoods, as the world spiralled into a major slump as demand for goods and services plummeted.
The threat of a global economic implosion was real. And with a presidential election looming, former president Donald Trump threw billions of dollars at the big multinational pharmaceutical companies, to shore up and incentivise their research and development processes.
Britain, France, and Germany in Europe, as well as the Russians and Chinese, also had their very best scientists working overtime to ensure a response was created to stave off the pandemic.
We are now about to enter the second half of 2021. And the coronavirus still continues to dominate and overshadow our lives. We have the benefit of several different forms of vaccines, each with a different level of effectiveness.
But the COVID-19 virus has also evolved. There are several variants of the virus from its original incarnation. The Delta variant, which is believed to have mutated in India, has sickened, and killed millions of that country’s citizens.
The strain has spread rapidly around the world and has been identified here in Barbados. There is much speculation on how it arrived on the island, but we accept that with a tourism-based economy, events such as these form part of the inherent risks.
The Delta variant is currently the cause of more than 80 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called this strain of the virus “the fastest and fittest.”
The battle for hearts and minds on the matter of vaccinations has been won among the older populations of countries that have had the benefit of widespread vaccine availability. That age group suffered the greatest during the first year of the disease’s emergence.
As we prepare to battle through what appears to be another wave of the pandemic, with the highly transmissible Delta variant foremost in our minds, new issues are confronting us.
It is clear that the Mottley administration is doing all in its power to reduce the number of business interruptions from clusters of disease outbreak, and to prevent another crippling national shutdown.
As chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association Mr Edward Clarke has indicated, our country’s businesses cannot withstand another shutdown. There are many enterprises that have not reopened since the first major six-week shutdown in April 2020. Some of those that survived the near two-month closure, have resumed operations at a much scaled-down level.
Today, the most compelling issues to develop from the pandemic have centred around acceptance of the free COVID-19 vaccines. Close to 100 000 people have come forward to receive at least one jab, while nearly 75 000 are fully vaccinated.
Employers are now moving to protect their businesses from constant disruptions by seeking to have employees vaccinated against COVID-19. It has become a matter of economics and business, while many reluctant employees say the vaccine should be a matter of choice.
Business owners are not prepared to put their investments at risk while employees mull the matter of vaccination. The debate over the matter of employee rights and employers’ desire to maintain their businesses rages and can only be settled one way. And it is not just the private sector, but Government has to confront the same challenge.
In a recent issue of Thomson Reuters Practical Law in the United Kingdom, it was noted: “On 24 March 2021, the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] gave evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee, in which he responded to a question about whether vaccination certification was “compatible with a free society such as ours”. He suggested that the concept “should not be totally alien . . . because, after all, when you are entrusted with the care of a patient, as a surgeon, you are expected to have a vaccination against hepatitis B”.
At her Friday press conference, our Prime Minister was resolute that the issues related to vaccination and employee right to choose, will be dealt with frontally when the Social Partnership meets.
Government’s strategic objective to achieve herd immunity, thus creating the platform for some semblance of normalcy in the economy, is clearly undermined by the great degree of vaccine hesitancy in the population.
Government certainly cannot leave it to the private sector to carry this matter of COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace, exclusively on its shoulders. It has to be addressed legislatively, and the only people who can properly address it are the legislators who were elected to office by the people of this country.