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The chickens have now come home to roost

The chickens have now come home to roost and citizens of this beautiful tri-island state will pay with their livelihoods, health and lives.

The government of Grenada has failed in its duty to protect the population. From the onset government bungled the re-opening of the economy. That process was plagued with incompetence, nepotism, ambiguity in messaging and a stark indifference to the safety of the population.

This is evident in the glaring loopholes in protocols and unequal manner in which public health regulations are implemented.

The leader and his team of ministers and other officials succumbed to pressure from the tourist lobby and set up a dual system at the main international airport to protect against the dreaded Covid-19 virus.

That system, principally, aimed at protecting the population from imported spread of the virus have one arrangement for returning nationals, Grenadians living abroad and visitors who go to low price guest houses and another for travelers who stay in major resort hotels and high priced villas.

There have been repeated calls, over the past months for the health authorities to close multiple loopholes in entry protocols and public health regulations as it relates to Covid-19.

These calls have gone mostly unheeded and when action is taken the advantage to larger hotel properties and high priced villas remain at the detriment of poor, lowly paid hotel workers.

As recent as the December 4th edition of this newspaper, an article was written warning government there should be no time for complacency.

The article identified a glaring loophole in the revised entry protocol that allowed tourists to, on the basis of a negative PCR test for Covid-19, enter the country and go straight to the big hotels in the south of the island, where it was observed and staff have indicated that masks are not usually worn when attending to guests.

The article exposed the danger of this practice based on the accuracy of the PCR test. According to many studies published in reputable medical journals including, Annals of Internal Medicine, the rate of false negative, that is when the results say you don’t have the virus when you actually do have the virus, can be as high as thirty (30) percent.

Therefore, allowing tourists to stay at hotels without doing a second PCR test, even if they do not wish to enter the community, is playing ‘Russian roulette’ with the lives of hotel workers, taxi drivers, immigration officers and airport workers who must interact with tourists.

This virus is very contagious and most persons are not aware how they got infected. The numbers in the United States, the main source market for tourists, are cataclysmic at the moment with 16 million infected, over 100,000 hospitalised and 300,000 plus deaths and counting yet the government is allowing this to happen.

What is particularly disturbing according to hotel workers is that masks are not usually worn when interacting with guests. The minister stood in parliament and said, I will not play ‘Russian roulette’ with peoples’ lives. How disingenuous was that statement.

As early as June an article published by this newspaper referenced data released during a Webinar tagged, ‘ Ready to Reopen’? How the Caribbean Tourism Industry Should Prepare for The Tourism Restart hosted by New York-based PM Group and its partner Sparkloft Median, which said that Americans who lean Republican are more likely to undertake leisure travel during the pandemic.

These people are mostly Trumpian Republicans who don’t wear masks, believe the virus is a hoax and our islands are ‘shit hole’ countries. The MAGMA Global Travel Post Covid-19 survey results suggest that only 24 percent of persons surveyed would travel to the Caribbean by end of the year.

The fact is that not too many people are traveling at this time and those who do likely would not adhere to a mask mandate once on island and consider the island as a shit hole.

The Institute for Health Matrix Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington in July predicted that the pandemic will peak globally in mid-December at 30,000 deaths per day with 3,000 in the United States.

Notwithstanding, the later dramatic upwards revisions of the projections by the IHME and the great risk to our population, government went ahead and ‘bet the house’ on tourism.

With the virus raging in North America and Europe, two of the main source markets for tourists, and having decided to focus on the reopening of tourism, one would expect government to take all necessary steps to protect the population. This is evident in the glaring loopholes in protocols and uneven manner in which public health regulations are enforced. How much more heartless and reckless can government be?

Having ‘dropped the ball’, and caused the super spreader situation at the hotel, I am amazed at the utter contempt government has for the poor hotel workers affected and the boldfaced manner in which their representatives lie as they attempt to misrepresent the situation.

Firstly, citizens must understand this is not a breach of regulations as hinted to by health officials.

This is a clear case of the hotel in concurrence with government being allowed to operate in a manner that put workers at risk for infection. As the Minister said, the tourists on arrival to the island having presented a negative PCR test will go directly to the hotel and stay there for the duration of their visit. The tourists will be tested a second time only if they want to go into the community.

This arrangement does not account for false negative results that can be as high as 30 percent. Therefore, up to one third of tourists who are allowed entry to the island with a negative PCR test, can actually be positive for the virus and infect those they come in contact with.

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Were the minister and his two minions not aware that the PCR test is not one hundred percent accurate and there is the possibility of false negative reading?

Maybe the acting Chief Medical Officer should explain what accounts for the person who, a couple weeks ago presented a negative PCR test result on entry at the airport, however tested positive five days later during the second test in quarantine.

That person either got infected after the first PCR test was done or received a false negative result. The only reason why this situation did not result in a super spreader event was because of the second test which is required for returning nationals and Grenadians who were stranded abroad because of the pandemic.

This highlights the obvious double standards that have been a hallmark of this government. While the poor, single parent mother with 6 children in Golf Course barbecue stand was taken away by police, the jerk chicken man arrested in Mount Tout and many shopkeepers are forced to close during the lock-down but bars and restaurants in Lance Aux Epines and True Blue operated by light skinned Grenadians and party supporters were allowed to open beyond the stipulated time.

It is the same situation with tourists going to the large hotels and villas, and returning nationals and stranded Grenadians.

Both tourists, returning Grenadians and citizens that were stranded abroad are being made to have a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before travel to the island. However, returning Grenadians and citizens have to take a second test four to five days in quarantine either at a government sanctioned facility or at home.

Tourists to the big hotels and posh villas in the south of the island are allowed to enter and remain on the property for the duration of stay without doing a second PCR test. This is where the failure exist. A tourist or returning national could be infected after taking the first PCR test or receive a false negative result.

The second test done by the returning national in quarantine will pick up the infection, however the tourist will not know and unknowingly spread the virus to hotel workers and others they may come in contact with. These persons in turn will carry the virus into their homes and communities causing community spread.

This is exactly what has happened and it is a blatant lie to say we don’t have community spread that it is a cluster. The virus has left the hotel property and traveled to possible hundreds of homes using hotel workers and their immediate contacts as host.

So why is the minister and his two minions lying to the nation? This is not a cluster – this is full blown community spread and the government must prepare the nation for hospitalisations and deaths which usually lag 6 to 8 weeks behind the intense infections.

This leads me to another instance of recklessness and abdication of duty by the government. From the time Grenada confirmed its first few cases of Covid-19 in March, calls were made for government to expand its testing and treatment capacity to be able to adequately handle a major outbreak of infections that could cause increased hospitalisations and deaths.

Although there was some expansion of testing capacity, the authorities repeatedly failed to heed calls to undertake systematic testing within the general population. This would have determined if there is asymptomatic spread within the population.

The island has only 10 beds dedicated to Covid-19 and a similar number of ventilators to treat patients. This capacity is inadequate to handle a moderate increase in infection much less sustained community spread.

It is criminal, yes criminal for government to decide to accept tourists from high risk countries and fail to put things in place to protect the population. It is criminal to turn around and create loopholes in protocols and grant wavers to big hotels.

These actions are a blatant disregard for the lives of Grenadians. What is even more shameful and dishonest is the way in which health officials try to lay blame on the poor workers by suggesting this was a breach in protocol and workers should wear masks at all times.

The lowly paid hotel workers are now being served up as lamb to the slaughter since government has abandoned them and they are being treated with scorn by the employer. Sir Eric Gairy and Comrade Maurice Bishop must be turning in their graves.

Under an Eric Gairy government, the manager and other senior expatriate staff of the hotel would have been sent packing out of the country and its owner faced punitive action or hotel shut down. That could not happen under the revolution – the hotel would not dare try to circumvent the rules for fear of heavy manners.

However, this government has a track record of favouring foreigners over locals as was the case when the Chinese contractor locked out a team of government officials and representatives of Civil Society organisations from the Levera Project site.

Another set of Chinese were given pristine lands in the south of the island without proper environmental evaluation. The actions of the hotel is just a continuation of the great latitude given to foreigners by the government.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost the people of Grenada must wise up and not allow themselves to be slaughtered on the altar of the tourist dollar.

Special Correspondent

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