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One hand can’t clap!

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Whatever we try to do, COVID-19 and its damaging effects continue to dominate our day-to-day lives on a global scale. There is no news bulletin and hardly any conversation these days into which this nefarious virus does not worm its way.

In our little corner of the world here in SVG, developments surrounding the safe return of Vincentian workers employed on cruise ships and oil rigs abroad, as well as the situation of our students in Jamaica and Cuba, have been some of the main points of discussion. By the way, there was a most interesting article on possible scenarios for a post-COVID tourism industry in this week’s mid-week edition of SEARCHLIGHT (online) by local businessman Joel Providence, which I would urge readers to grab hold of and read.

More and more it is becoming clear that whereas the lockdown policy implemented to try and halt the spread of the deadly disease was necessary in many cases, (in others there may have been panic-stricken reaction), it cannot be a long-term solution. What is more, there is no formula for how fast to re-open society and the economy. The closed-door, non-contact approach runs contrary to normal human behaviour, for humans are essentially social beings. The challenge is to find solutions which contain the virus in the first place, while trying to maintain human solidarity and exchange.

On the local level, our country has made progress both in avoiding the worst of the pandemic and in dealing with the many social and economic challenges presented. Most of the cruise ship employees are safely home and the politicking of some amongst us amounted to little. Cheap and narrow partisanship can often lead people to take positions where they almost wish for the worst just to prove they were right, to the detriment of the wider society. It is like after being a West Indies cricket supporter for years, wrong selection policies lead you to virtually wish that your team loses, just because you are dissatisfied with this or that.

PCR testing machines are here

The long-awaited PCR testing machines are here, school is about to reopen on a phased basis and the gloom and doom predicted if we did not “lock down the country” have proven to be way off the mark. Not only are we coping, but a most welcome announcement has been that of the resumption of regular services at the community health clinics interrupted by the COVID threat being given priority.

The government has been doling out its promised payments under the stimulus package, providing welcome, though limited relief to thousands. One can argue whether this or that payment should have been more, whether there are deserving others who might have been missed by the net or some other such aspect, but there is no denying that the package is of temporary benefit to many who have been badly affected by the effects of COVID. At a time of economic hardship, the payments are not only directly helping the distressed; they are also helping to recycle money in the local economy.

The major task still lies ahead – that of soliciting injections of funds in the local economy to prepare us for a very uncertain post-COVID economy. The stimulus to young entrepreneurs under the PRYME initiative and how we take advantage of the opportunities in the agricultural sector are going to be crucial ,as well as, importantly, how we position ourselves and market our destination in the new tourism world.

So far, so good, but we are far from being in a position to rest on our laurels and preen our feathers. Enormous challenges still lie ahead and the unwitting and irresponsible behaviour of a tiny minority can overnight turn everything upside down. We have to be constantly vigilant and not drop our guard, for we are far from out of the woods as yet.

National responsibility

Having taken the initiatives mentioned, it is vital to get the public to understand that there is now even greater need for greater national responsibility and for us to work together if we are to succeed. The millions of dollars doled out will not have served their purpose if our approach is that it is “free money” which can be frittered away and then more being demanded. There is no national gold mine and the stimulus payments will not last forever. Some who have lost jobs may never get those back and must think of retraining and innovative enterprises to survive.

My disappointment is that the government itself is not sufficiently emphasizing the need for sacrifice. The stimulus comes at a huge cost to our nation. While, undoubtedly, the governing party will attempt to benefit from it politically, especially in an election year, we have to get our people to understand that they are not just recipients; they too have to play a role in our survival, recovery and growth.

Sometimes one can get the impression that everything is all right, that there is no need for sacrifice and moderation, that we can simply demand and that the government will have to deliver, especially with elections around the corner. We must get those images out of our minds, for it is only hard work, collective effort, social responsibility and national duty which will underpin our forward thrust. We must forever remember the old saying, “ONE HAND CAN’T CLAP”.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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