Letters & Opinion

Saint Lucia’s 2021 COVID Elections will be no Jab-Jab or Greasy Poll!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Two things struck me hard this week that reinforced my strong belief that we cannot win this COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 fight without stronger measures to force those who put other people’s lives at risk to comply with the protocols.

First: I was standing alone on a designated Social Distance waiting-line outside an open Essential Service outlet when four armed police officers, who arrived after me, walked straight past and into the establishment, one immediately asking the attendant: ‘Dat Lotto machine working now?’

Noticing they had not followed the entry protocols and were disturbing the attendant’s transaction with an earlier customer, the supervisor emerged from her office and quietly upbraid the officers — to which one officer replied: ‘All of us working together, so if we have to die, we will die together.’

Forced to lean hard on my walking-stick while still nursing a left leg broken in several parts last May, I boiled with painful anger inside as I listened to the officers laughing while exchanging ideas on what best numbers to choose for which Lotto game.

Others on the line behind me gritted their teeth at being unable to tell the armed-officers holding-up the line how they really felt.

But what I saw was four Police Officers sworn ‘To Serve and Protect’ and expected by The Force and Citizenry to enforce the COVID protocols, instead risking my life and others, in pursuit of a Game of Chance — and not giving a hoot, or a boot…

After countless painful minutes, my brief transaction concluded after another staffer attended to us lawful citizens on the line, I furiously limped to my waiting friend’s car while the officers continued guessing lucky numbers.

I later decided to share the experience, if only to repeat my longstanding case for a compulsory nationwide COVID-19 Test to determine where to start with real figures in a real national fightback.

In April 2020 (ten months ago) I suggested the national Voter Registration Campaign for the 2021 General Elections be accompanied by a parallel National House-to-House COVID Test.

I was accused of recommending measures that would violate people’s rights to choose whether to take a test — to which I replied that individual rights should always submit to the greater good, especially in cases of national emergency.

I also posited that while we all have rights, we also each have equal responsibilities, including to be each other’s keeper.

I proposed too, that those who exercised their individual right not to take a test should not mix with those who did, just like returning nationals and/or persons identified through Contact Tracing are compulsorily quarantined.

That experience also further reinforced my view of a dire need and dying need for a more effective national public COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 education campaign also aimed at enforcers.

My second comeuppance was with the arrival of COVID vaccines and the virtual start of the arms race for local shoulders.

With Barbados generously donating 2,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Saint Lucia and another 1,000 sent by Dominica, there are now enough to jab only 1,500 persons — or only 0.83 percent of the population.

And even with the 74,000 doses expected to hopefully arrive by month-end, that’s only enough for 37,000 people – or 20% of the population — a full 50% less than the 70% prescribed by the ‘Herd Immunity’ approach the Health Ministry earlier indicated it would follow.

The authorities have announced a three-phase vaccine distribution program starting March 1 that will treat two sets of people – aged ‘up to 64’ and ‘over 65’.

But they face two hiccups: less than 20% of Saint Lucians willing to take any vaccine; and increasing proof that AstraZeneca is less-than-effective against SARS-CoV-2.

AstraZeneca has also run into serious distribution problems, including a contract dispute with the European Union (EU) after choking-up on overloaded contracts in the global arms race with competing pharmaceutical corporations like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (Big Pharma).

Besides, the much-maligned Russian Sputnik V vaccine has been highly-approved by The Lancet, the preeminent medical journal subscribed to by doctors and scientists worldwide, resulting in many EU nations opting for the Russian jab.

In addition, St. V/incent and the Grenadines became the 26th nation (and first in the Caribbean) to register Sputnik V under emergency use authorization; and China’s CINOVAC is already being rolled-out in Guyana, thanks to a big Beijing donation.

Cuba produces eight of the 12 vaccines in its national immunization program and has exported hundreds of millions of vaccines to more than 40 countries, with its Soberania brand due out by June, following a scientifically-determined and necessary-lengthy required testing period.

In these circumstances, CARICOM governments still in a position to do so should seriously consider which vaccines should be selected, based on effectiveness.

Saint Lucia’s government finds itself with both feet in one COVID shoe: vax quickly (with AstraZeneca) and risk low positive effects or bad results; or put jabs on hold for one month during a national testing campaign to assess the real numbers, follow the science and develop an appropriate strategy to slowdown, halt and eventually reverse the spread.

The fake COVID Truce arranged between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader late last year remains Dead-on-Arrival, as made Crystal Clear in the House of Assembly and The Senate this week.

The political battle lines have been drawn in the COVID fight and there can be no doubt that like all the seven elections held in CARICOM in the past year, government’s handling of the pandemic response will be a hot election campaign issue.

The next poll here has been described as everything from the ‘Nastiest’ to ‘The Mother and Father of All Elections’, one that ‘The UWP cannot afford to lose’ and ‘The SLP cannot but win’.

All these factors lined-up for the upcoming poll, therefore, leave absolutely no doubt it’ll be no ‘Jab-Jab’ or ‘Greasy Pole’.

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