In Parts 1 and 2 we examined the Obstacles, Challenges and Opportunities in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 in Year 21 of the 21st Century and the need for Saint Lucia to embark on an Urgent Vaccine Diplomacy Mission to widen choices while encouraging the unvaccinated to take the prick and save their lives and protect others.
Today, we look at the dire need for the government’s redoubled efforts in the face of the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and the Alpha and Delta variants, as well as against the background of the High levels of Pandemic Fatigue and Low Vaccination levels, alongside still-too-high levels of Vaccination Refusal, Mistrust and Hesitance, propelled by Conspiracy Theories concocted by ‘anti-vax’ Preachers of Doom and Gloom, Doubting Thomases and like minds over the past year.
The past few months have also seen an increase in the political agitation around selling Governments’ efforts to legislate aspects of the COVID fight to protect the citizenry being deliberately sold as deliberate efforts by governments to adopt dictatorial policies to force vaccination by making it mandatory in certain places like among those fighting the pandemic on the frontline, including doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and other emergency officers, as well as public officers in direct contact with visitors and members of the public, like Customs and Immigration, air and sea ports employees, etc.
The combined effect of selling vaccination as a global plot to control the world and mandatory requirements in selected areas as deprivations of individuals’ human rights and forcible inoculation has easily spurred street protests in Antigua & Barbuda and Barbados.
And St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister could have been killed by a rock pelted at him, from close range, by a protester in an August 12 demonstration organized by the major New Democratic Party (NDP) opposition party and two politically-allied trade unions representing public officers outside the parliament while members discussed the proposed legislation.
Aware that the Government’s majority would have secured passage of the legislation, the parliamentary opposition NDP organized the rowdy protest, including setting street fires and loudly blowing horns, to register its political disapproval, resulting in the Prime Minister being left with a pool of blood draining down from his head onto his white shirt, necessitating he be given immediate treatment locally and flown to Barbados for more intensive care and examination.
The violence involved in the Vincentian opposition’s partisan political response cannot and should be neither underestimated nor overlooked by the rest of the region.
Historically, opposition parties tend to offer partisan responses to domestic issues they disagree with the government on and the weaker the strongest opposition party the harder it tries and easier it succeeds to galvanize its supporters to act strongly outside the parliamentary chamber to make-up for their weak presence.
This has also been very much the case in Saint Lucia as well, where opposition parties have historically tended to be more careless than careful about how they go about opposing.
That’s normal, but COVID-19 and the global pandemic that threatens Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the rest of the world is not at all even near normal.
Politicization of the pandemic has always been a feature everywhere, as the main decisions on fighting it are made by politicians first and foremost, in most cases acting on the advice of medical and health professionals.
The orientation of the governing politicians will decide the extent to which the national responses follow the science and the numbers or simply reflect the personal feelings of the likes of ex-US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro that range from COVID denial to vaccination mistrust.
Now in opposition, Trump is patently critical of his successor’s efforts to confront the national COVID crisis inherited by the Biden administration following over half-a-million deaths and the highest number of persons testing positively worldwide.
Bolsonaro is still in office, but under his watch Brazil surpassed the USA in the number of deaths and the super-spreading of the virus, leading to the nation’s prosecutors indicating they plan to try the President for his mishandling of the crisis and refusal to be guided by medical and health professionals, including his own appointed Health Ministers.
If the weaker the opposition the stronger their efforts to politicize national issues, it should not be ruled-out that Saint Lucia’s UWP, with its second-lowest number of MPs in the 17-seat parliament since Independence (only two) can be expected to more quickly flex its extra-parliamentary muscles to score partisan political points against the Government.
After all, some 35,000 voters voted for the UWP in the last poll and the current parliamentary divide virtually blanking its ability to score ‘points’ in the Lower and Upper Houses, it can be expected the major opposition party will more easily (if not always) opt to try to kick the government where it’ll hurt most, than consider the decency of applying related parliamentary protocols regarding national issues like the COVID pandemic.
The UWP has already warned it will virtually go To Hell and Back to ‘hold the new government to account’ – and anyone familiar with the party under former Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s leadership since he ousted then Prime Minister Stephenson King for the leadership in 2015 will not rule-out the party ‘playing politics’ the best it can in the current COVID circumstances.
Under his watch and despite the requirements of the National COVID Emergency law the UWP administration introduced, the police were accused by the then opposition SLP of policing the protocols in an uneven way and allowing the ruling party’s candidates and supporters to get-off Scot Free while opposition candidates and supporters were either arrested and/or charged and members of the public were in many cases openly harassed COVID Wardens, many hauled before the courts and charged, facing fines and/or confines for not wearing masks or observing social distancing.
Ordinary citizens were policed for the protocols while golfers and players of elite sports were allowed to disregard the same protocols.
Also under the UWP’s watch, the 21-day election campaign Last Lap saw the police virtually abandon policing the protocols, the ruling party mounting an island-wide motorcade that knowingly violated all the COVID protection and prevention protocols, with full participation and encouragement by the leader, candidates and supporters.
Ditto the opposition candidates, whose mass crowd violations remained within constituency boundaries.
Whether the police were outstretched or asked to stand down remains an unanswered question, but the collective violations of the super-spreader political events in a carnival-style close to the election campaign led to the government’s Chief Medical Officer and the President of the island’s doctors’ association both warning, one day after, that the activities were not just irresponsible but could quite possibly have laid the basis for early arrival of a ‘fourth wave’ that could also include the landing of the Delta variant at a time when the Kent variant had long already landed.
After the UWP lost the election badly, the incoming Prime Minister made it absolutely crystal-clear that fighting the pandemic will be his government’s Number One priority after taking office – and that he’ll be ‘following the science and the numbers’ in determining the best way forward for the benefit of all.
From all the new Prime Minister and Health Minister have said and done in redefining the directions of the new local and national battle(s) against the pandemic forced by the new post-elections numbers and consequential scientific results, it’s clear the thrust has to be to not only to continue to steer clear of politicization of the response, but also to discourage any and all efforts to so do.
Blood is already shed, while Caribbean people are increasingly being misled to pound pavements in protest against genuine efforts to protect them and the rest of the citizenry.
Saint Lucia’s new political and gubernatorial leadership is not expected to engage in partisan politics in the COVID fight.
But it can (and should) be expected to take tough political decisions when necessary and not dither over partisan or lesser considerations when lives are at stake among both vaccinated and unvaccinated.
And if and when (hopefully never) the specter of violence should ever rear its ugly head anywhere in any response here, the new administration should also expect to be counted-on to have adopted the wise saying that one (in this case a nation’s political leadership) should always ‘Hope for the best, but plan for the worse.’