Commentary

Is there a Sinister Plan behind the Coronavirus Control Bill?

There are many tools in the toolbox to deal with a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus. Wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing hands, testing, contact tracing and treatment are the main tools in the toolbox. Once the tools are used effectively a pandemic can be brought under control.

It has been proven with the Spanish Flu of 1918 and has worked in countries that have brought the current coronavirus spread under control. Grenada is one of those countries that have done well to suppress the initial imported cases of the virus before it started to transmit in communities. As a result Grenada currently has no active cases and no credible evidence of community transmission among the general population.

If the Government listen to WHO and PAHO and embark on a concerted effort to strengthen its disease surveillance infrastructure, expand testing, train more contact tracers and increase the number of hospital beds to treat those who may become infected and in need of hospitalization, the island should have the capability to deal with any outbreak that may occur after our borders are open back up.

The question is, has the Government taken steps to embark on this effort? From all indications this has not been done and Grenada is at some risk for a resurgence of the virus after our borders are open.

At present Grenada only has 14 hospital beds dedicated to Covid-19 response. Despite recently training seventy additional contact tracers over three hundred well trained contact tracers are needed in the event of an outbreak that has spread to communities. Similarly, there may not be sufficient PPEs, frontline staff and supplies to deal with a full outbreak at this time.

Government has squandered an opportunity to get things right in the event of an outbreak. The virus moves around as people move since humans are its host, therefore it is only logical that once our borders are reopen there is a good chance the virus will jump up and start to spread again.

The recent situation with increased confirmed cases after a forty day period of no cases in our neighbour Trinidad and Tobago is a clear example. Rather than do the right thing and focus on putting measures in place to prevent a resurgence of the virus according to the science, Government has introduced this draconian bill that seeks to take away people’s fundamental rights and put in place a permanent state of emergency.

Where is this coming from? What is the true reason for this bill?

Why does the Government want to deny its citizens the right to liberty, freedom of movement, right to assembly, the right to protect private property? Who is really behind this Bill?

There is a trend across the world where dictatorial leaders are using the pandemic to seize additional powers and violate citizens’ fundamental rights by imposing draconian emergency laws that have little to do with the pandemic.

Is this the case with the Coronavirus Control Bill recently submitted by Government? Why does the Bill contain so many instances of infringement of fundamental rights to freedom of movement, assembly and protection of private property? What is the Government trying to achieve by this significant legislative over reach?

Another area of concern is the section of the Bill that deals with electronic surveillance. The Bill seeks to give the Minister of Health power to designate mobile applications and cause installation of the said applications on citizen’s personal cellphones. What is the need to blatantly infringe on citizens’ rights of movement and privacy?

This is more serious in light of allegations regarding an attempt to purchase spy software to monitor cell phones on the island. The population ought to start paying serious attention to the actions of the Government and the section on electronic surveillance in the Bill. Are these measures contained in the various sections of the Bill really necessary to prevent the spread of the virus?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Infectious Disease Control Unit in the United States identified five principles to stop the virus, wearing of mask, avoid crowds, practice physical distancing of at least six feet, typical hand hygiene and, avoid bars or closing them where possible.

He further stated that “strict adherence to these five principles can suppress the spread of the virus”. Therefore if the Government listen to him, Dr. Mike Ryan of WHO and, Dr. Clarissa Etiene of PAHO, Government will focus on putting in place strong disease surveillance measures, expand testing and improve access to testing to the general population, train over three hundred contact tracers and increase the number of hospital beds to be able to treat citizens should there be one or multiple outbreaks going forward as our borders are reopened.

Recent comments from Government officials indicating the likelihood of increased confirm cases as the borders are reopen suggest they are well aware of the level of risk to the population. The question is why expose the population to that risk? Studies conducted by New York based marketing company, the PM Group and its partner Sparkloft Median and MAGMA reveal that Americans who lean Republican are more likely to resume travel at this time.

Just over fourteen percent of respondents in the MAGMA study indicate they are ready to travel right away with close to seventy percent of Americans putting off travel to a later date or early next year.

Among this fourteen percent who are willing to travel immediately are the Trump crazies who do not wear mask, are not concern about the virus and are likely to be racist and do not care about the health of our hotel staff. Americans account for over fifty percent of stay over visitors to Grenada.

Even Europeans are not enthusiastic about long haul flights with the risk of infection during travel and the requirements place on them by their Governments. Some European Union countries such as Spain is starting to see a possible second wave of infections.

This has led Britain and Germany, in the last couple days to enact travel restrictions to Spain. We should not expect flights from Britain and other EU countries to be full at this time. Local hotels have also indicated they are not expecting more than twenty percent occupancy as well.

Given the clear evidence of increase virus spread from countries that have either opened up too soon or without putting strong public health preventative and mitigating measures in place, what is the rush to open up even to medium risk countries.

If the argument is to get the economy running to prevent further decline why don’t Government listen to the WHO, PAHO, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts and put in place a robust disease prevention system to protect the population rather than try to enact laws that would infringe on the rights of its citizens.

You don’t have to deny the right to privacy and private property to put in place a strong disease surveillance system. You don’t have to deny the right to freedom of movement to put in place a robust contact tracing system to stop the virus spread in its tracks. You don’t have to enact harsh punitive penalties to get people to wear a mask or adhere to six feet physical distancing when you can undertake an effective public awareness campaign aimed at getting people to change their behaviour.

Your Ministry, Mr. Minister has to get its act together, listen to the experts and do what is right, what has been proven and expand testing in the general population, increase the number of contact tracers, provide additional hospital beds, stockpile sufficient PPEs and supplies to be able to deal with any outbreak.

Additionally, review the protocols for passengers arriving on flights from medium and high risk countries and further strengthen them such as reducing the number of days from seven to three for PCR test result to be used as a screen, consider pushing back the August first reopening for international flights from medium risk countries to determine if the recent outbreak of the virus in Spain and other countries from Europe is indeed the second wave.

Government should consider these recommendations and listen to the experts rather than go down the road of this draconian Bill. However if they continue along the present path the question must be asked, why?

Recently China announced a one billion dollar loan to countries in the western hemisphere to purchase the vaccine when it becomes available. Is the Coronavirus Bill linked to that offer? Is this a condition to be able to access the funds from China?

The draconian measures in the Bill are similar to those implemented in Wuhan and other areas of China. Or is this the actions of a Government hell bent on acquiring dictatorial powers to subdue the people for their own selfish political preservation? Time will soon tell if there is a sinister plan.

Special Correspondent

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