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Commentary

Time to tighten up on enforcement of current protocols

As the pandemic continues to rage in other parts of the world, Grenada will face a clear and present danger from Covid-19 and be at high risk for an outbreak because of our open dependent economy. Therefore, citizens must take personal responsibility to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated and adhering to public health protocols.

Notwithstanding, the emergency use nature under which the AstraZeneca vaccine is administered and instances of blood clot, when one considers the hundreds of millions of people all over the world who have taken the vaccine and the few thousand instances of blood clot, the benefits of taking the vaccine far outweigh the risk.

Any outbreak on the island going forward is likely to be one of the deadly strains, in particular the UK or Brazilian variants which spread faster and kill more persons at a younger age. Should the island suffer an outbreak as that which is occurring in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago the health system will be overwhelmed in a matter of days since these variants are making more persons sicker, needing hospitalisation and critical care.

The already weak and inadequate ten beds capacity parallel health system set up by government to treat Covid-19 patients will collapse leading to untold numbers of deaths.

The limited number of nurses and doctors, that are already frustrated with the treatment meted out to them by government, lack of sufficient therapeutics to treat patients, and poor state of the lone health facility dedicated to Covid-19 patients, it is likely what is happening in Trinidad and India can happen here in Grenada should an outbreak occur.

Infected hospitalised persons will have to be treated in hallways and other makeshift arrangements, there will be one nurse to scores of patients, ventilators and oxygen will quickly run out, the small fleet of ambulances will not be sufficient to transport the number of persons that would need hospital care to the treatment facility, parents and siblings would die in the space of hours, multiple family members would die, young healthy persons would die, older persons with or without comorbidities would die, students, police officers, nurses and doctors would die.

All of these persons would die alone, gasping for breath and crying out for their loved ones. Funeral homes would have no choice but to cremate bodies without final rites being administered because of the volume of deaths and lack of capacity to properly handle them.

So Grenadians, the next time you read outright lies and misinformation on the internet and listen to uninformed naysayers think about what will happen should an outbreak of the UK, Brazilian, South African or Indian strain happen on the island as well.

With that being said, government having not set up a robust parallel health system to be able to deal with a serious Covid-19 outbreak on the island, lacking the resources to buy sufficient ventilators, supplies and therapeutics to treat infected patients needing care, demoralise health workers to the breaking point, and preside over a porous border for over twenty five years, it is incumbent upon you to get it right in this critical stage of the pandemic to prevent the island from being overrun by Covid-19.

Getting right at this stage means taking action to improve messaging to counter misinformation and downright lies being spread on the internet and other social media platforms. But first, those entrusted with the task of leading the fight against this deadly virus must understand the varied motivations of the skeptics and vaccine hesitant. They must first try to get to the bottom of what are the forces that are driving vaccine hesitancy on the island.

Having identified and getting to understand those forces, proper capabilities would need to be acquired to develop effective messaging to counter the situation. The right mediums and messengers should also be identified to disseminate messaging to the various sub-groups under the vaccine hesitancy banner.

Before this effort can be successful, the leader must stop his arrogant, bullying, divisive messaging. He must stop putting employers against employees, stop favouring white and Middle Eastern investors, and local petite bourgeoisie over the black skinned poor local population in enforcement of public health regulations.

Similarly, the top minion in the Ministry of Health and his surrogates must stop being compliant to members of the petite bourgeoisie, of which he belongs, and connive against the poor working class when enforcing public health protocols.

The leader must move to turn the toxic relationship healthcare workers have with his administration into a positive one by improving working conditions, return docked salaries and fulfill his government’s obligation to pay the four percent salary increase.

The leader must understand that one of the forces driving vaccine hesitancy is the nature of experiences, relationships and level of trust people have in government and public health institutions.

The enforcement officers must not have to overlook crowded entertainment places in True Blue or pass a packed bar and lounge along Lance Aux Pines main road and go two hundred meters away to shut down a business establishment at Prickly Bay that is much more ventilated and has a larger open air floor space.

The police must not have to be sent to shut down Coconut Beach restaurant that has much more ventilation and has reduced the number of serving tables to accommodate social distancing protocols while a business establishment at a famous waterfall in St. George’s where live performances with leading calypsonians take place on a small stage with patrons cramped in a small covered area dancing and pressing against each other like sardines in a tin is allowed to operate.

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The droplets from a potential infected person would spread more easily in those settings in True Blue, on Lance Aux Pines main road, and the waterfalls than at Coconut Beach and Prickly Bay.

There must be absolutely no nepotism when enforcing public health protocols. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. The playing field must be level at all times or else issues of trust, resentment and defiance will emerge.

High vaccine hesitancy leading to low rate of vaccinations and disappointing numbers of persons who have taken the vaccine, increasing levels of complacency on the island, and biased enforcement of public health protocols leave the population highly vulnerable to an intense community spread of the new variants.

Should this happen it is going to be catastrophic, to say the least, in light of an inadequate parallel health system set up by government. Unfortunately, as the number of visitors to the island increases in the coming summer and winter and as our borders continue to be porous, a Covid-19 outbreak is a real possibility.

The island will soon face an impending problem of heightened risk for Covid-19 outbreak, authorities must choose to tighten up, in light of the situation.

Tightening up doesn’t mean introducing new protocols rather it is stepping up enforcement of regulations already on the books.

As Michelle Gelfand, cultural psychologist at the University of Maryland, College Park and author of the book, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How tight and loose cultures, Wire our World said, ‘the goal is to be ambidextrous tight or loose depending on the situation’.

The senior command of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) have demonstrated tremendous leadership during this pandemic. I was elated to hear the RGPF will step up enforcement of public health regulations across the country. The Commissioner and his team continue to show leadership by choosing to tighten up at this time as the threat from Covid-19 is about to increase.

The people should cooperate with members of the RGPF and wear a proper mask when in public, adhere to social distancing and sanitise regularly. The police need to be given more patrol boats to be able to intercept the Venezuelan and Colombian drug dealers who illegally enter the island’s territorial waters.

The leader and his team, recognising the danger that lies ahead, appear to be unable to govern’ and must choose to tighten up at this time to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak. For according to Nigel Lawson, British conservative politician, ‘to appear to be unable to govern is to appear to be unable to choose’.

The leader must choose to tighten up by changing the tone and tenor of his messaging and taking action to reduce vaccine hesitancy.

Workers who are employed in close contact settings such as providing care to others and hospitality services must be made aware of the dangerous risk to themselves, clients, family and friends, if they do not take the vaccine.

His government should give the Police High Command full support as the RGPF steps up enforcement efforts. His government should consider asking the United States or any other friendly government for three patrol vessels to prevent drug smugglers from entering the island’s borders illegally and transporting the virus as well.

The leader and his team must consider strengthening regulations where necessary in light of the changing situation with the variants for instance because the new strains are more easily transmitted and contagious, having a bus driver just tie a scarf around the nose area, while transporting persons in public, should not be accepted, instead a proper mask must be worn by bus drivers providing public transportation services and as such the definition of a mask or face covering should be amended to take that into consideration.

The leader must call his Minister of Health to account for the biased enforcement of Covid-19 protocols and direct that the mantra going forward must be fairness and consistency during enforcement of public health protocols going forward.

The leader must seek to improve the relationship between his administration and health care workers by returning docked salaries, improving working conditions and paying the four percent salary increase legally due to them under the signed labour agreement.

The leader must lead by making the right choices during these difficult times if the island is to navigate through this dangerous Covid-19 minefield.

The leader must choose to tighten up on enforcement of current public health protocols and not introduce draconian laws and regulations to trample on the rights of labour to protest and withdraw their labour, to attack political opponents, and infringe on the rights of citizens.

This would not be a good choice and would only create defiance and anger from the populace and cause confusion thus allowing the virus to get the upper hand.

Special Correspondent