The New Today

Commentary

The large number of deaths in such a short space of time

The alarming number of deaths due to Covid is an indication of serious policy and systemic failures in government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regional countries with similar population size and GDP per capita have had lower number of total deaths from Covid and much slower deaths rates than Grenada. To date, St Vincent have had seventeen deaths, Dominica fifteen, St. Lucia one hundred and eighty five, and Barbados sixty seven over the last fifteen months of the pandemic. In just over four weeks Grenada reported one hundred and twenty deaths from Covid.

On July 30th total confirmed cases on the island were one hundred and sixty nine with only one death recorded. As of September the number of confirmed infections rose to four thousand, nine hundred and twenty two, and a dramatic eighteen hundred percentage increase in cases over the period, unprecedented among English-speaking Caribbean islands.

What accounts for this colossal failure in government’s response to the pandemic? In the first place from all indications, government never had a comprehensive plan to fight this virus. Containment measures at ports of entry, introduction of public health protocols and purchase of PPEs cannot be considered a plan.

These are activities that ought to be part of a broader program of interventions that should be identified and scheduled to achieve a common objective in the fight against Covid-19. The absence of a parallel health system, comprising isolation centers, treatment and step down facilities suggest a serious flaw in government’s efforts against the virus.

The large number of deaths in such a short space of time is a direct result of the absence of a parallel health infrastructure to handle Covid patients. The existing, already crumbling, health facilities on the island cannot handle the influx of Covid patients and as such many were left to die without proper treatment.

The policy of allowing infected and mildly symptomatic persons to isolate at home has also contributed to household cluster spread, and resultant high infection and death rates.

The extremely fast pace at which Delta swept across the island is reflective not only of its highly contagious nature but a weak enforcement environment and low levels of vaccinations. This situation is conducive to intense virus spread and Delta took maximum advantage of it, hence the high levels of deaths and infections.

To add fuel to the fire, government is yet to develop a communications proposal which must be an essential component of a comprehensive plan that would guide the fight against Covid.

Effective communications and messaging are key in addressing vaccine hesitancy and anti vaxxer propaganda.

The reason for not taking the vaccine varies and messaging must address concerns of these different audiences. Identifying the trigger motivation that would cause persons within the different groups of vaccine skeptics to take the jab is critical to developing effective messaging.

According to cognitive psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University these triggers can be many things from reminding persons of the common good in protecting a sick family member or co-worker with comorbidities to not being able to travel on vacation without a vaccine or access certain services.

These trigger motivations could be incorporated into effective messaging as well as information addressing common vaccine myths on fertility and miscarriages.

Recent efforts by Office of Diaspora Affairs to get young professionals in the medical field based in New York on television programs discussing Covid-19 and vaccine concerns are commendable, however this should be part of a larger public education blitz designed to combat vaccine hesitancy under a comprehensive plan to fight Covid-19.

The continued absence of a proper plan to deal with Covid-19 has hamstring government’s response which caused unnecessary deaths and economic dislocation.

Running around like headless chickens and turning up at testing centres is not evidence of a plan. People are not dying because they are staying too long to seek medical treatment. They are dying because there are no isolation centres.

Having been told to isolate at home, persons particularly, with comorbidities are moving along the spectrum of mildly symptomatic to really sick very quickly by the time the ambulance comes to get them – it’s too late the virus has already weakened their lungs.

Similarly, persons who test positive at testing centres and having to return home to isolate and using public transportation put commuters at high risk for infection.

Related:  Covid has laid bare the weakness in leadership

It was amazing to hear the leader’s comment on wearing mask properly on buses suggesting that the risk of getting the virus from an infected person sitting next to you on a bus is less if a mask is properly worn. However, the leader failed to point out that if the number of persons in each row on the bus is cut by one that risk is further reduced with increase in ventilation and airflow.

The fact is without a comprehensive plan to deal with this pandemic infections would peak then decline, hospitalisation and deaths would lag behind, crest then fall but will rise again once infections begin to increase with another wave.

Pandemics usually have at least three waves. The island is experiencing its first wave and look at the amount of deaths and hospitalization – imagine what would happen with a mutated variant more contagious than Delta.

Without a comprehensive plan that includes provisions for isolation and various levels of care from tertiary, secondary and primary within a parallel health system setting to deal with another outbreak the island is doomed to high death rates.

Without a plan that has a well thought out communications and messaging component, vaccine hesitancy will remain high and the island would take longer than it should to reach herd immunity thus leaving the population at risk for successive waves of the virus.

Without a comprehensive plan with a component on how to reduce public transmission of the virus, driven by data from contact tracing and geographic information systems modeling, the arbitrary containment measures hastily instituted would fail causing several waves of virus spread and further economic decline.

The government appears to still be in daze as it continues on with its knee-jerk response to the health crisis. With no apparent attempt to develop a comprehensive plan to address the problems of the pandemic, it is perplexing to me how the ‘main opposition party’ after one encounter with the Prime Minister could adopt this inclusive response to a national crisis mantra.

Did the Prime Minister hoodwink these Neanderthal politicians again? Have they forgotten how he treated them after hurricane Ivan under the guise of national unity or more recently in April of 2020 when they were asked to identify representatives to sit on various government committees? Their spokesperson on health should be able to speak to the latter.

Rather than attempt to falsely, take credit from the vibrant group of young people who led the campaign against the draconian ‘Martial Law’ bill, and the initial lockdown in April of 2020, the imbecile interim political leader should champion the cries and despair of the Grenadian people by calling for better treatment and care for Covid patients, protection of sick patients on the wards from Covid infections, and a proper communications strategy to address vaccine hesitancy.

He should champion the cause of small business people who are hurting and can’t pay their bills due to loss revenue and call on government to be fair and transparent when providing assistance to that sector.

He should call for a transparent and non-political system for distribution of face masks and sanitisers sent by persons and organisations in the diaspora for the Grenadian people rather than have party activists give out only to supporters.

He should meet with the National Bus Association to learn more of the plight of their members and seek through the organisation’s external chapters, sanitisation equipment to assist regional associations in sanitising buses after each trip.

He should call attention to the hundreds of vulnerable parents and households who are unable to access online teaching for their children because of lack of internet, and access to properly functioning devices and highlight the risk of sexual abuse some students have to face in trying to get online services by neighbours and other persons.

He should call out the looming crisis with the large number of students that are not signed on to online teaching and the negative consequences for the education system. He and his organisation must call for preparation of a comprehensive plan to combat the pandemic and highlight the people’s concerns rather than be outmaneuvered once more.

Special Correspondent