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Don’t allow Covid-19 to be the biggest disappointment of your political career

One can’t forget the 1983 Cricket World Cup finals when the mighty West Indies, who enjoyed a long successful winning streak, lost to lowly placed India that had not made it past the group stage in the previous two world cups.

The outcome of that match had a deep impact on West Indian players and placed a heavy burden on the psyche of West Indian spectators alike, particularly those in the diaspora.

Legendary captain Clive Lloyd put the defeat down to the complacent manner in which fellow team members approached the small total set by India. Fast bowler Joel Garner believed the West Indian team took it for granted they will make the runs.

Malcolm Marshall, arguably the greatest West Indian fast bowler of all time, later wrote in his autobiography the team paid the ultimate price for an act of complacency.

As a West Indian, cricketer and confessed passionate lover of the game, Mr. Prime Minister that 1983 lost to India must be etched in your memory, since that devastating lost had a profound effect on players and West Indian players alike, particularly in the diaspora knowing how much the success of West Indian cricket meant to them.

History and circumstances often times have an uncanny way of crisscrossing one another at the intersection of life’s experiences. Grenada’s experience, to date, with the coronavirus pandemic highlights an interesting parallel to the West Indies team’s experience in that 1983 World Cup that should not be overlooked.

Grenada has enjoyed relative success in keeping the coronavirus at bay with low levels of infections, hospitalisations, deaths and positivity rates.

The income support program inspite of its many hiccups, with implementation, was commendable. Notwithstanding the success of government’s efforts to date, one must not become complacent as the West Indies did in 1983.

Clouded by a seventeen match unbeaten streak, West Indies could not see the danger posed by India after they were beaten in the first round of the World Cup.

Rather than consider the upset defeat in their first round game against India as a clear and present danger, they saw it as a blip on their remarkable winning record run.

Mr. PM, you must not make a similar mistake and take the recent Sandals outbreak as a one-off event. That outbreak highlighted the danger of instituting protocols and public health regulations that are complaisant to the tourism sector.

In addition, this pandemic is not yet over and there are gathering storm clouds on the horizon as the race between the variants and vaccines heats up. A race that Grenada seemed to have fallen far behind the other islands with relatively low numbers of vaccinations, despite availability of vaccines.

The level of vaccine hesitancy on the island is high – this has hampered the immunisation campaign. The current rate of vaccination is pale in comparison to Barbados which was able to vaccinate around sixty thousands of its citizens; and St. Lucia well over twenty thousand persons within the same period as Grenada, which only managed to inoculate close to ten thousand persons.

This should be of serious concern for if the island is to achieve herd immunity eighty percent of the population must be vaccinated.

Although the vaccination effort abroad has picked up pace with over one in four US citizens receiving at least one shot of the vaccine and over fifty percent of all elderly in Britain fully vaccinated, the situation with the variants in particular the UK, Brazilian, South African, New York and California variants are troubling.

Epidemiologists in the US had said that by the end of March the more contagious UK variant will become dominant in that country. The other variants, some of which appear to evade the vaccines are quietly spreading across the world as well.

The catastrophic situation in Brazil, increasing infections in twenty five US cities after a plateau to fifty thousand infections a day, and return to lock down for many cities in Europe including Paris should serve as a warning what will happen if the variants start to spread within the population even if vaccinations are ongoing.

In the city of Manus, Brazil, where deaths due to Covid-19 have skyrocketed and burial grounds are overwhelmed, the reinfection rate among the city’s population is extremely high because of the Brazilian strain.

In neighbouring Jamaica where the British strain is present, that country is in ‘a dark place’ according to Prime Minister Andrew Holness with well over five hundred infections per day, deaths approaching six hundred, and hospitalisations over fifteen percent above hospital bed capacity.

Therefore, announcing reopening to coincide with the scheduled reopening of the UK and Canadian borders without taking decisive action to ramp up vaccinations and make efforts to access more vaccines for the population, beyond the twenty thousand doses already in hand and the forty seven thousand doses to be received from Covax is irresponsible to say the least.

According to Joel Garner, one of the greats in the West Indies pace attack, referring to that devastating loss to India on that day in 1983, he said, ‘over confidence is a hell of a thing’ so, Mr. PM the lives of Grenadians must not be taken for granted. These variants are much more dangerous than the original virus and the emerging situation around the world must not be overlooked to favour the tourism lobby.

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Grenada still faces a clear and present danger from the Covid-19 virus.

It must be remembered that the four vaccines being used to vaccinate persons are under ’emergency use authorisation’ and have not yet received final authorisation and license to produce.

Emergency use authorisation is a mechanism to facilitate use of vaccines during a public health emergency such as a pandemic. This is not to be confused with final approval and license to manufacture the final step in a normal drug approval process. Accordingly, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of all four vaccines and studies are currently ongoing among populations of persons that have been vaccinated to determine that. Therefore, it is too early to suggest that the time for quarantine should be reduced to four days for vaccinated travellers to the island.

Additionally, because of the high level of vaccine hesitancy, low rates of vaccinations and limited availability of vaccines, the island would not be able to reach herd immunity anytime soon. To open the island borders too soon to travellers from countries where the new variants are spreading and dominant, is calling for trouble.

The vaccination roll out in the US, UK and Canada, major source market countries for tourism has been very much disciplined as they stick to the age requirement for vaccinations. After almost three months of vaccination, some US States are only now allowing persons age fifty to receive the vaccine having focused previously on the elderly population. This is similar in the UK and Canada.

President Joe Biden recently announced that by end of May all who want to be vaccinated will have access to the vaccines. If these hotels on the island are reopening in April it is likely that those travellers would not be fully vaccinated.

According to studies done recently on vaccinated persons in Israel and the UK, both countries have impressive vaccination campaigns, the vaccines are very good at preventing persons from getting severely sick and dying, however the evidence is still unclear on whether they prevent symptoms or persons from getting infected.

Studies are ongoing to confirm the latter that is if the vaccines prevent symptoms and infections. Therefore, persons who are fully vaccinated can become infected and spread the virus and that is why public health experts in those countries are advocating that vaccinated persons still wear a mask when out in public.

This situation will remain until these countries achieve herd immunity that is vaccination of eighty percent of their population. Mr. PM, the more persons that are vaccinated and build up immunity to the virus, the less chances are available for the virus to grow, replicate, and spread from person to person making it difficult for the virus to mutate and create more variants.

If the tourism sector is to be fully opened up by April there should be a laser-focused emphasis on getting a successful vaccination campaign going. Do not do as Clive Lloyd and recriminate after the monumental defeat, announcing his resignation which he later reconsidered. Some felt he should not have played in the finals after sustaining an injury in the semi-final match against Pakistan.

The Covid-19 virus will defeat team Grenada if given a chance, look at what is happening in Brazil, the over half a million deaths in the US and closer to home Jamaica with close to six hundred deaths, well over thirty six thousand infections and eighteen thousand active cases.

The time has come for you to summon the Minister of Health and his Covid-19 response team and direct that the public education campaign be significantly ramped up to address the problem of vaccine hesitancy.

As part of a reinvigorated campaign, civil society and other stakeholder groups should be invited to join the public education effort. Influential persons such as barbers, hairdressers, shop keepers, pastors, and community organisers could be asked to assist by arming them with factual information on the vaccines and variants and using them as change agents to promote the benefits of getting vaccinated as they interact with customers and clients.

As captain of team Grenada you can’t afford to become complacent as Clive Lloyd and his team did in 1983. You should not overlook the Sandals outbreak, as the West Indies team did in their first round defeat to India since there are many lessons to be learnt from that experience.

Neither should you take for granted the island’s current Covid status, only three active cases, low infection rate and no hospitalisations and deaths for granted.

The coronavirus, though fragile and easily destroyed by soap and water, will defeat Grenada in a similar manner as the mediocre bowling line up of Kapil Dev, Balwinder Sandhu, Madan Lal, Roger Binny and Mohinder Amarnath did to the mighty West Indies on that day in 1983 which will go down in West Indies cricket infamy.

Joel Garner later described this as the biggest disappointment of his career.

Special Correspondent