There is a popular saying, when your neighbour house is on fire wet yours. Recent spikes in coronavirus infections in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and Bahamas should be of concern to the Government here in Grenada.
The dramatic exponential increase in infections in the Bahamas, rising hospitalisations in Jamaica after reaching a milestone of one thousand infections and, significant increases in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados should cause the local authorities to move swiftly to strengthen public health regulations and Covid-19 protocols at our borders to prevent a similar upsurge in infections.
However to date, Government have not even announced it is monitoring the situation with our neighbours, instead it appears all hell has broken loose in the tri-island state with scores of carnival like, super spreader, events over the last few days and a general lack of leadership in the country.
This lack of leadership and failure to act decisively would cause the virus to jump up and transmit again and when it does it will be community spread with all the negative consequences associated with this type of transmission.
Local authorities should be commended for a fairly successful lockdown, however, it appears as though, they have lost their way after the Prime Minister announced the phased reopening of the economy. One can argue that the tone set during that announcement was not a good one as no clear detailed rational other than the virus is largely under control was given for the reopening.
Neither was it announced that if the population fail to adhere to public health regulations and the virus starts to spread again the country will have to go back into lockdown. Instead the announcement focused heavily on the economy and gave the impression we can go back to business as usual.
When one compared the thoughtful announcement on reopening made by Dr. Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago it was like chalk and cheese. I believe that the wrong signal was sent during that announcement to the people in Grenada.
The Government buckled under pressure from various quarters and lost control of the reopening process. Businesses were allowed to open up without proper health protocols in place, economic and employment considerations took precedence over public health risk and, the weak capacity in the Ministry of Health to police and enforce these public health protocols.
Moreover, the glaring instances of double standards in enforcing these regulations are quite evident. When the poor single parent mother, struggling to feed her many children, and her barbeque grill was taken away by police in Golf Course for breaching the curfew time protocol, the bars and eateries in True Blue were allowed to open beyond the same stipulated time with patrons wearing no masks and not social distancing.
When all restaurants were forced to close at a certain time one on Grand Anse beach remained opened. When all carnival shows were cancelled one was allowed to go ahead under the guise of a virtual event however scores of patrons attended. This blatant double standard is one of the reasons young people defied the authorities and played Jab Jab over the weekend.
Both World Health Organisation and Pan American Health Organisation cautioned countries to put in place a strong disease surveillance and treatment infrastructure, and robust public health measures before reopening the economy. To date, the Ministry of Health and Covid-19 Task Force have yet to establish a strong disease surveillance system to police this virus.
The epidemiological function is grossly under resourced, there is an insufficient number of contact tracers in the event of a significant outbreak and a non-existent epidemiological health information system. This is a very serious deficit in light of a pandemic and the infectious nature of the coronavirus.
After repeated calls the Ministry is yet to take steps to expand the number of hospital beds dedicated to Covid-19 treatment. At present there are only fourteen beds available and compare that to over two hundred beds in Barbados and one thousand beds in Trinidad and Tobago considered the gold standard for the English-speaking Caribbean.
The public health measures currently in place are often times circumvented or not enforced at all. The many ambiguities in messaging and announcements on regulations and protocols by the authorities are troubling to say the least.
Also, very little has been done to engage and educate the population on the coronavirus, hence the high prevalence of persons not wearing mask or social distancing in public. These failures are very damning and it is amazing how the Minister of Health has not been held accountable by the Chairman of Cabinet, the Prime Minister.
Lethargic leadership highlighted by ambiguous messaging and autocratic tendencies, and lack of action on the part of the Ministry of Health has created a situation where large sections of the population have become cynical and mistrustful of those in power just at the time when decisive leadership is needed.
This has stymie Government’s response to the coronavirus. Now that a response is needed in light of the evolving situation with our neighbours, the Government is unable to act and swiftly take preventative measures to stop the virus spreading to Grenada. In other words, we are not wetting our house as the neighbour’s house is ablaze.
The current situation in Grenada is similar to that of the United States, absence of leadership, failure to act to ensure the measures that worked in past pandemics: testing, isolation, tracing and treatment are in place and effective, large sections of the population not wearing mask and social distancing and now a general breakdown and defiance in society.
It is only a matter of time for the coronavirus to start spreading to communities causing hospitalisations and deaths. When this happens the health risk and economic consequences will be severe for our people. This would all be due to a failure to govern in this time of crisis.