TUESDAY, November 10, 2020 — when the island’s first two COVID deaths were reported — will go down in Saint Lucia’s history as one day no one looked forward to, but was sure to come.
And with it also came a welcome apparent change in attitudes, primarily because one of the two first COVID fatalities was a well-known and beloved national figure.
Wilkinson ‘Wilkie’ Larcher was no more of a human being than the other gentleman who died of the same causes on the same day. But the fact that so many people knew and respected him not only drew sympathy for his dear wife and family, but also drew to our abrupt collective attention that COVID just simply does not discriminate.
Larcher was the last person anyone would wish dead, but COVID, which takes no prisoners, grabbed him – if only to show how serious it is.
The popular lawyer that many here knew and admired died on a day when the official number persons affected globally was over ten million and registered deaths in the USA were speeding towards 240,000.
Many big names have died and are still dying daily from COVID, among them former President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, who died a day after ‘Wilkie’.
There were also other progressive and popular Caribbean politicians who died from COVID, like Jamaica’s D.K. Duncan, former General Secretary of Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP).
There can never be anything good about bad things — or so we thought until COVID-19, which changed life as we knew it and turned living on its head.
Fact is, COVID-19 is an enemy like none ever: invisible and intrusive, with no respect for borders or boundaries, or who to ‘pick’ first, always ensuring that ‘First Come, First Serve!’
It would seem that Wilkie’s exit opened the entry most needed here to understand that each of us can be next; and helped reaffirm (hopefully) how impossible it is to fight an invisible enemy – except with science.
We are naturally pressing the panic button, but the COVID Corbeau has struck — and is still hovering above.
The two deaths have definitely changed the game: It’s Game Over for denials and Open Sesame for inconvenient truths, admission, honesty and acceptance.
It doesn’t matter whether we think, like all the previous global pandemics, including the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ that started in the US Mid-West and had absolutely nothing to do with Spain, this virus is a global plague.
Government therefore needs to better convince Saint Lucians it is doing its very best to put the country on a better Coronavirus battle-footing.
The PM and Cabinet Ministers continue to be shown on TV violating normal COVID protocols, while ruling party supporters openly blame the Opposition for the latest spike.
But this is an extreme time requiring extreme measures, including but not limited only to lockdowns and arbitrary fines and confines for violation of preventative COVID protocols.
Government needs to transcend beyond merely verbally acknowledging Opposition willingness to cooperate, to actually consulting and involving the other side in a meaningful way in the search for COVID solutions.
And at the same time, the Opposition also needs to convince Saint Lucians that as a responsible alternative government, it also has a COVID-2021 Plan.
Our hospitals are about to run out of beds and the need for new cemeteries will hit us like we are either living a longtime horror movie, or a modern ‘Friday the 13th’ thriller every day.
But there’s no more room for playing… Our bubble has burst and we now have an empty void to fill with more than just air.
Schools are now closed for another month (and possibly until next year) and people are asking for anything that will make them feel safer, from the closing of our borders to the naming of establishments where COVID cases were detected, even suspected, at the cost of stigmatization of such workers to the same extent as nurses who were earlier being refused access to minibuses.
We need to decided, in the midst of it all, whether we actually want or are prepared for the measures we are calling for – like closing the country down, closing-down hotels, naming hotels where visitors tested positive, naming communities where persons being tested – even naming persons in quarantine.
But Saint Lucians need to really examine whether we are prepared for what we are asking in the name of ‘Peter Paying for Paul’, because a real lockdown like what is required now will be like taking a trip to Maskville Global.
With two deaths registered, the number can only go up, which means that we have to learn from our mistakes and accelerate preparations for tomorrow and next year by dumping denial and embracing reality.
One stark reality facing us is that Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, USA and others have learned the hard way that one of the first things to do is to follow the science, which starts with assessing the number of COVID victims nationally.
In Saint Lucia, up to September 6, 2020 only 6% of persons had been tested out of a population of 175,000 – 10,500, which is many, but still hardly enough to get the full picture we need to follow the science.
With that figure and where they are located is the easiest and most accurate way to start planning, but we have since April avoided national testing, even made it too costly to encourage voluntary testing, just as quarantine costs now passed to families returning home from abroad and having returned spend half their usual quarantine time at home, at the risk of home-spreading.
I continue to argue that mandatory testing in small Saint Lucia is both easy and helpful an should not be treated as opening the gates to uncomfortable truths about the real state of COVID-19 here.
The obviously SMART virus must be laughing at us while we joke with responses that open the way for the tragicomedy that’s begun with the leap of positive cases from tens to scores to the hundred mark, but we need to get more serious about what we are ready to do to fight a battle never yet won.
In this case, Size Matters, as our small numbers are more easily manageable than in those places that have shown us just how manageable and unmanageable control is guided by demographics.
We therefore need to dump denial and embrace the new opportunities brought by the COVID challenge, including rising to the challenges in ways that will allow us to identify and embrace the new opportunities that always existed but we never saw – until now.
Great and simple people will continue to die from COVID, but it all depends on whether we simply mourn or use the solemnity to start a new chapter or break a new dawn in the fight against the worst enemy the world has faced in the 21st Century.
I think we have got to the stage where we must take the bull by the horns and close-down for a week to give the country enough time for a mandatory national COVID survey that will exclude no one, following which the results will determine when we reopen on the basis of the findings and what they say about whether COVID entered through front or back doors or has simply spread from positive cases to the next logical but always fatal level.
We do not all have to agree, once the decision is taken, politics aside, in our collective, healthy national interest.