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Call a spade, a spade!

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I had planned this week to do a tribute to the second of our “Golden Generation of Broadcasting”, Ferrand “Randy D” Dopwell, to depart within the past year following Evans Bernard “E B” John last year. However, so critical is the crisis facing our country, the Caribbean and the world, a crisis in health and the economy in particular, that space available dictates that I give our collective well-being the priority and write about “Randy D’ next week, the week of his burial.

The COVID pandemic has cast a huge and deadly shadow over the entire world, enveloping millions in misery and death. The Caribbean has not been spared, given our open economies and ties with the countries from which the virus has been mainly spread, the USA, UK and Canada mainly. However, we here in SVG have had our troubles multiplied by an outbreak of dengue fever replete with fatalities, and now the looming threat of an explosive eruption of the Soufriere volcano.

In such a situation our salvation depends not only on our prayers to the Almighty, but on what we do to help each other and ourselves in the bargain. We can only succeed if we forge a basis of unity in adversity and if we act in conformity with each other to combat the multiple threats. Even a cursory examination of how disunity can be disruptive, as in the case of the USA, should be enough to warn us of the dangers of political opportunism and national disunity in a crisis.

Whether one wishes to engage in chest-thumping or denigration of efforts on the part of the government, there is no denying that so far, at least up until December last, we have been able to ride out the health storms fairly well, employing a mixture of approaches. But we are now in a new situation, a dangerous one at that. It is no excuse for us to panic, but we must acknowledge the gravity of the situation.
Given our relative success, particularly the facts that the vast majority of our COVID cases were, until late December, imported, that until then we had no seriously ill case and above all, no deaths, we seemed to drop our guard. But there could have been no worse time to drop one’s guard than during the Christmas season, a time of great social interaction. In addition, we seemed not to take the many violations of quarantines and isolation orders seriously, so even those of us, not seemingly in danger, saw no harm in interacting with persons who were disregarding the health protocols or in not informing the authorities of such violations.

Then we had the Christmas interactions, the shopping in crowded stores, the throngs rushing to clear barrels, even the traditional Nine Mornings activities. It is as if we were unwilling to make even simple sacrifices to ensure the health of the nation, our families included. Little did we realize that we were not only living on borrowed time, but shooting ourselves in the foot as well. The chickens are coming home to roost. Of course, we will all excuse ourselves and cast blame on others, particularly those of us with a political agenda, but if truth be told, we are all responsible, to one degree or another.

The looming danger of the volcano has further complicated the situation for, with the alarming rise in COVID cases, how could we evacuate and house persons in crowded quarters? If the rate of COVID infections continue as at present, will the generous offers of neighbouring countries to accommodate evacuees still be on the table? Or will those governments succumb to popular pressures not to accept evacuees because “St Vincent have plenty COVID”?

Above all, we have to take a firm stance on the spread of malicious propaganda and on the encouragement of ignorance on the part of those who know better. Nobody will win any political war over our predicaments and those who think that they can use the crisis for political advancement will pay the price in the long run. We have to level with the people at all times, to work together, to trust in each other and realize that these are grave threats to our nation as a whole.

There continue to be calls for a total lockdown, an extreme act avoided so far. That carries with it serious effects to the economy and livelihood. But it does not mean that there cannot be variations of it. Certainly the announcement by the Prime Minister of a two-day holiday over the weekend, Friday and Monday, is tantamount to a form of lockdown, for it includes an appeal to businesses to treat Saturday as a holiday as well.

It is all well and good to hold prayer vigils and to see what can be done to reduce social interaction. But let us not mention “holiday” and then ask people to stay home. Our irresponsibility has brought us to this stage and we must be told the truth. It is not any “holiday”, it is an attempt to try and curb the spread. We must avoid social interactions and obey the health protocols.
If the time for ramping up is with us, we must be told that is the case. We can no longer tolerate irresponsibility. Let us call a spade a spade.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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