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Our time of gloom

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ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT the Prime Minister finally addressed the nation on the issue of COVID-19. To me the most important statement he made is that we are not out of the woods as yet, referring to the health situation and the possible economic impact.

I say this because in this country there is a lot of uncertainty and concern. We have been hearing what is happening not only in the region, but throughout the world, and especially from our immediate neighbours. Dominica now has 11 cases of the virus, Grenada recently had its first case, but had even before that come up with a comprehensive plan to deal broadly with the situation. We have so far been fortunate to have one reported case, but are we really equipped to deal with an increase in numbers?

This thing is spreading as more Caribbean countries now report cases. The examples from other countries indicate that it is difficult to know how many persons are infected if there is not wide testing.

We were told that equipment for testing will arrive shortly. Are we to assume that persons are already trained to do the tests? Let us remember that at the moment we have persons returning who had been employed on cruise liners, cargo boats, farm workers and persons from the northern Caribbean who have been displaced from work. Last Monday I returned after spending a weekend in Barbados and was surprised at how easy it was to pass through the airport without being questioned or checked. There were other persons on the flight who came from out of the region.

We needed assurance that things are in place if matters get worse. To make the point that human fear is greater than the actual effect is not reassuring when we are bombarded with news of what is happening elsewhere, and when we realise our limitations. New York where many of our relatives live, with all its resources, human and otherwise, is trying very hard to cope with the crisis. Most of the Prime Minister’s address focused on the economic stimulus. Information about the health situation was what had been widely known. We are into a period of COVID-19 and our first

concern is how we function through this period if matters get worse and how we protect ourselves.

Even the economic package seems to be out of sync with the current situation.

It sounded to me like another budget address geared specifically to take the country into elections.

We hear about buying fishing boats, support to the arrowroot industry and the purchasing of farm animals, which appear to me not directly related to the current situation. Take the issue of starting the barrel concessions from May at a time when many in the diaspora who send those barrels are likely to be unemployed, even though temporarily. Why at this time the issue of painting buildings around the country? If things get worse with the COVID-19 crisis what happens while we are going through that period? Some of the economic activities suggested will clearly not happen during this period of crisis, particularly if it worsens.

Are we convinced that we have in place measures to limit the introduction of the virus and to prevent community spread? This is important and at the moment is our major concern. I wonder too about the measures in place to protect the frontline workers, at the airport and elsewhere. They, I hope will benefit from the economic package having put themselves and their families at risk. Because the package largely covers the period after COVID 19 what happens if we are forced to declare a state of emergency as some countries are doing? How are we expected to cope?

I note that all our ports remain open except Chateaubelair. Shouldn’t this be looked at again?

l Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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