There is a saying that people “can’t see the forest for the trees”. Essentially, one can be so involved in the details of an issue that one fails to consider the whole situation.
If this can be applied to the current situation facing Barbados in how we are seeking to address the exploding COVID-19 infections, it would partly explain the divisive debate on vaccinations.
On social media and radio call-in programmes, the discussions have become rancorous. Often punctuated with the peddling of questionable sources of information being passed off as fact, the media space has helped fuel the uncertainty and confusion surrounding COVID-19 and efforts to treat and stave off the disease.
The debate, particularly over-vaccination, is dividing many friends, workmates, families, and even business-to-business relationships. The use of outlandish words and phrases such as ‘medical apartheid’ has worsened the inflammatory environment.
One may ask what represents the “big picture” in the Barbados context? At this juncture, it is about the survival of the whole. Personal and economic survival is at risk. Our children’s education, our health care system, our ability to earn a living as a country and as citizens, our ability to feed ourselves are real-life consequences.
Those who are prone to reject this argument as hyperbole should examine the numbers, the simple facts, the reality of the deteriorating quality of life that confronts a growing number of Barbadians.
At the national level, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pronounced that “Barbados’ economy remains severely depressed by the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. While tourism is expected to recover gradually in the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, risks to the outlook remain.”
With Delta and other variants wreaking havoc across the Caribbean, the incentives to travel to the region to escape the gloom of an emerging new wave of infections in our tourism key source markets, are diminishing.
We have accumulated US$1.4 billion (BDS$ 2.8 billion) in foreign reserves on which to rely. However, as those who have become jobless during this pandemic will attest, significant savings in the bank can quickly disappear in the absence of steady income.
The government has assumed the noble task of shouldering the mammoth costs of Barbadians and residents who test positive for the disease, as well as the quarantine costs for close contacts of COVID-positive patients until they can produce negative test results.
The argument has been made that the state can reduce this multi-million-dollar bill by allowing people to quarantine at home if they have adequate accommodation for such.
But we know how that went in the early stages of the pandemic last year.
People awaiting COVID-19 test results found all types of frivolous reasons to leave home, endangering unsuspecting persons with whom they came into contact.
The highly infectious new variants have altered everything. Government, under immense pressure from wary and disgruntled citizens demanding a lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, is forced to pay attention to the big picture and not just the granular emotions and anxieties of individuals.
We are on the verge of reporting almost 100 cases daily. This island will never have the human or financial capacity to adequately treat hundreds of sick COVID- 19 patients, no matter how many schools are converted into medical facilities.
Our testing facilities are now unable to satisfy the growing demand of those who suspect they were in contact with a positive person and want confirmation of their status. While visitors attempting to leave the island are frustrated by the inability of our lab to meet its 24 to 48 hours commitment to producing results.
There have been more than 400 confirmed new infections in the last seven days. And only those who are not prepared to listen will refuse to accept that a tsunami is approaching.
The more than 100 000 brave people, who chose to ignore the anti-vaccine lobby and examined the big picture, are proving to be insufficient to push back the rising tide of infections.
Our government projects the narrative of “no retreat, no surrender” but it is obvious that the local business community is worried the situation is barreling out of control. As such, they are prepared to say and do what the administration is hesitant to touch.
The Barbados Private Sector Association’s consistent push for vaccination is being reinforced by prominent business owners, who are putting pressure on the administration to do more and take a stronger stand.
While we argue over the rare side effects of vaccines, Rome is burning. We cannot wait for the deluge when we can clearly see the cracks in the dam.