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Are we in this together?

Are we in this together?

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AFTER MUCH speculation, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves delivered his much-anticipated nationwide address on the COVID-19 crisis on Wednesday night. To his credit he avoided slipping into an old habit of his, that of making political jabs, no matter the occasion, and stuck to the COVID-19 script.

Clearly his theme was that this is not just a national crisis, but one of international dimensions and great uncertainty and that whilst immediately, health, safety and the welfare of our citizens are foremost, we must not lose sight of the economic dimensions and the significant repercussions of the crisis.

With this in mind, he emphasized the need for a rational, scientific approach and not a reactive one driven by panic and kneejerk actions. In this, those who had been calling for a complete lockdown of the country, as some others have done, would no doubt have been disappointed.

The government’s approach, the Prime Minister said, must be based on our specific circumstances and not fear-driven. In this, we find it not only irresponsible that another seasoned parliamentarian, claiming to base his comments on “the most senior and authoritative medical source” could come to the conclusion that nearly half of the population could be affected and “not less than 2000 Vincentians” will die in this pandemic.

These are precisely the kinds of words and actions we should avoid in a national crisis. Too many of us, for all sorts of reasons, are either directly spreading or listening to false news, in spite of available information to the contrary.

This aside, it is also true to say that in his address to the nation, Prime Minister Gonsalves did not allay many of the fears existing among our people about our preparedness or willingness to act decisively in dealing with COVID-19.

With all the emphasis on social and economic protections, the speech came over as light on health measures to contain and treat coronavirus. There also did not seem to be sufficient firmness in dealing with the need for social distancing, especially potentially dangerous social gatherings. The Prime Minister speaks of keeping crowd sizes at “a reasonable size” but this is way too vague and subjective. We must be more specific and emphatic with our guidance.

In times of crisis, we need to band together, to support each other, to follow the safety guidelines given.

The government itself must set the example in physical distancing, taking the lead with shift systems for public servants. It is easier to get the private sector to cooperate when you go out front.

Our public transport system is a cause of major concern, for too many minibus operators and drivers seem not to understand the dangers to which passengers are exposed and must be compelled to comply with health and safety regulations, which themselves need to be rigorously enforced.

There have been reports of persons defying quarantine and mixing with the rest of the population. We strongly support the measures announced, but do we have the manpower to enforce? That is why we must all be in this together. We can help as well at community level by looking out for each other, especially elderly and infirm, by assisting them to ride out the crisis and difficulties.

While broadly we support the measures announced, they can only succeed if we cooperate and act in unison. Guidelines have been given for public gatherings and we need to comply, but there is a big question that yet remains unanswered. An advisory has addressed the need for church services, social gatherings, funerals, weddings, etc to be restricted, but what about Vincy Mas? Carnival makers need to hear something definitive soon.

The COVID-19 situation we face today is bigger than any individual, political party or nation. Let us eschew the negatives, rest aside the unhelpful acts and positively work together to confront and defeat the “invisible enemy”.

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