COVID-19 shook the world throughout 2020 and metamorphosed last December into SARS-CoV-2, causing panic and bewilderment at a time when sobriety and calm are most needed.
All CARICOM states feature some kind of Lockdown or Shutdown, with COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Protocols in place, stringent policing and every other related measure being strengthened, from Quarantine to Social Distancing.
But nothing is stopping the spread across communities, as violations of Home Quarantine protocols in several states have led to surges of the statistical and graphic COVID curve, Contact Tracing revealing worse numbers, medical infrastructure under overwhelming strain and creating new crises – from needs for more hospital beds to increasing national testing capacity.
As always in these cases, science and numbers provide the bases for planning responses, but decision-making lies outside the purview of the scientists and health professionals.
Health authorities have the necessary carte blanche to recommend necessary measures and security forces have been deployed to police implementation of prevention and protection protocols, but problems naturally arise when their recommendations clash with gubernatorial political considerations.
Take the reopening of the tourism industry: The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has said the measures taken to reopen the region to visitors were inadequate and tourism-dependent nations, with hurriedly back-peddling to catch-up.
Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, among CARICOM’s most tourism-dependent economies understandably and stubbornly resisted calls for entirely closing borders, Governments’ eyes (as per necessary usual) more on ‘The Economy’ and ‘The Treasury’ than anything else.
Indeed, if all hotels and tourism facilities remained closed throughout 2020, COVID-19 might very well have also resulted in some sure levels of unemployment across the region, triggering social (if not civil) unrest by tens and/or scores of thousands of directly citizens and their dependent extended families.
Most hotels, guest houses and other tourism facilities decided to cut their losses and remained closed throughout the COVID-19 year, many quietly earning heavy COVID dollars by renting their entire facilities for official quarantine purposes.
But a few – led by Sandals Resorts International (SRI) – invested what it took to keep their properties open, guests coming and workers employed, expressing clear commitments to ride COVID-19 out with government and people, guests and staff.
Sandals and those that remained open soon became victims of the Blame Game, leading to Health Ministers in Grenada and Barbados taking their words back following claims its hotels on those islands were sources of national COVID-19 spikes.
Not that visitors are blameless: They now have to remain within compound gates and can only leave to board aircraft to return home.
But just as smaller islands that long boasted of no COVID-related deaths have started chalking-up deadly numbers, more visitors and returning nationals are also adding to national lists ‘imported cases’, including SARS -CoV-2.
Unfortunately, in cases where governments have had to walk-back on earlier talk, the tendency has been to ‘Blame the People’ with exasperated claims like ‘We have nobody to blame but ourselves…’
But while such tongue-lashings can and should be expected, they do nothing to improve the public’s responses, which in most cases have grown out of official hesitance to take hard decisions like national testing by making them free or affordable.
Other unhelpful responses include unhealthy arguments like over whether new waves were triggered by illegal marine ‘backdoor’ or legal ‘front door’ air and sea ports of entry, resulting in unhelpful restrictions on daily fishers and the vaccination conspiracy theory taking root.
The vaccines will come aplenty in time, even though current trends show that Big Pharma’s insatiable profit-driven appetite has made them so expensive as to, as always, keep them out of affordable reach of those most needing them.
Treating health as an economic investment base and medicine as an eternally profitable commodity has led to some governments everywhere treating health not as a public right, but as an expensive and non-productive annual national fiscal budget item, caring less about lives and livelihoods than about national economic factors.
But instead of continuing the useless Blame Game, governments, health authorities, national entities and stakeholder entities in the public and private sectors, farmers and agricultural entities, teachers alongside parents and students need to learn from the forced new COVID norms faced in 2020 and start taking new approaches to the festering old problem.
For example, the most important part of being healthy is living healthy, starting with eating healthy and building the body’s resistance to regular diseases like colds and flu.
This is supposed to be a lifelong personal objective that most have ignored until being forced to.
But encouraging citizens to not only eat well but building bodily immunity is an essential exercise that’s so far only been put on the national agenda in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, where the government very early identified 13 staple foods produced locally that help build immunity, encouraged farmers to plant them and guaranteed purchase for national distribution.
‘Grow what we eat and eat what we grow’ has been perhaps the most well-known, often-repeated and perennially-ignored Caribbean mantra from as far back as CARICOM’s establishment over four decades ago, with Food Import bills rising astronomically across the region as people continue to prefer imported foods for reasons ranging from prices and packaging to all the other usual perennial advertising effects.
But quite apart from reducing import bill, people have to be believably convinced that eating better and building immunity is one of the prime personal weapons in the national defense against COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 – and those still to come, as there will be.
There’s no reason to continue blaming ourselves, as such retrospective glances militate against forward thinking.
The Blame Game is only for losers, as the war can and will only be won by resolute fighters convinced they can win – and this is what Caribbean people need to be convinced of: that we can indeed defeat COVID and SARS.
And is no game…