The dynamics around the national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are changing dramatically as governments and business leaders around the world grow more and more impatient with unvaccinated citizens as illness and death from the disease continue to mount.
COVID-19 fatigue is hardening. Many economies that were expected to begin some reasonable kind of turnaround, are now experiencing much slower growth, if any at all.
The stability that businesses were anticipating is slowly fading, and despite the hope placed in vaccines to stop the viral illness’ spread, another seemingly more deadly wave is upon us.
In the Caribbean, faced with exploding infections spawned by the highly infectious Delta variant, some leaders are beginning to adopt a tougher approach that is infuriating some sections of their populations.
While our Prime Minister Mia Mottley has taken a negotiated stand which emphasises dialogue and engagement, some of her colleagues in the region are less conciliatory.
Antigua and Barbuda became the first regional government to introduce sweeping vaccination measures. With close to 900 active cases, Prime Minister Gaston Brown said the pandemic had resulted in tremendous economic dislocation, social disruption, and psychological trauma.
Brown’s Cabinet approved that from October 1, all unvaccinated public sector employees, including those employed in statutory corporations and companies in which the government holds majority shares, must remain at home until they can show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who was infected by COVID-19 and has since recovered, is also said to be mulling the idea of some form of mandatory vaccination.
This despite a caution from president of that country’s Industrial Court that a mandatory vaccination policy could not be enforced unilaterally as a condition of employment.
For us, however, time is running out. We have done remarkably well in convincing almost 124 000 people to be inoculated against COVID-19 with one of the three vaccines now available.
But the window is fast closing to get enough of our citizens and residents vaccinated to achieve herd immunity before the Delta variant causes more havoc than it has already done.
Three deaths in 24 hours at the Harrison Point Isolation Facility in St Lucy have caused Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George to assert that the island was “not in a good situation” and the spread of the disease was now “frightening”.
There is a recognizable urgency in the way our government has proceeded in recent weeks. The decision to hire veteran journalist and broadcaster David Ellis to be the new COVID-19 Public Advisor cum czar, to bring new focus to the information reaching the public square, was an important decision.
Another indication of the growing concern was the decision to take the vaccinations programme to the communities rather than waiting on residents to visit vaccination centres.
It is interesting that when residents who utilised the mobile vaccine facilities were interviewed, they spoke to the convenience and money that was saved by not having to pay bus fares to leave their communities.
What those comments suggest is that though vaccine hesitancy is real, there are many Barbadians for whom real-life situations are holding them back and not any philosophical objection to the vaccine.
If access to $7 or $14 dollars for bus fare is an inhibitor to being vaccinated against COVID-19, it demonstrates the extent of the stress being inflicted on household incomes and financial security.
The maddening nature of this pandemic is the fact that there is nowhere to hide or evade its wrath. The disease is shaping all our public discourse, all our decisions about economic and social planning and our inability to predict when it will all come to an end.
In his speech a week ago from the White House President Joe Biden addressed what he termed the “Path Out of The Pandemic”.
He announced vaccination requirements for the federal government in July and called on the private sector to do more to encourage vaccination as well. He also declared that workplaces with more than 100 employees must ensure the workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19.
The President’s plan, he argued, will reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans by using regulatory powers and other actions.
This is instructive, as this week the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) urged Government to establish a national policy on COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.
What the BEC is saying to Government, is that its members want a clear framework that is guided by law and allows them to take appropriate action to protect their businesses.
We cannot find fault in that demand.