Letters & Opinion

The Global Omicron Experience Part 11: Charting our future without a compass!

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

These days, every morning as I watch the cruise ships arrive at sunrise and later watch them sail back out at sunset, I cannot help but observe how it’s always more of the same when you put all your eggs in one basket.

Thanks in great part to twice-a-day (pre-sunrise and post-sunset) anti-vax sermons by the nation’s most influential talk show host offering evangelical snippets of seasoned truths with a level of linguistic elasticity that outstretches even the minds of those who claim to know more and better, more Saint Lucians are increasingly blaming ‘Tourism’ and ‘Visitors’ for the 5th Wave COVID-19 spike that’s already long sent shockwaves up enough spines to have accelerated the number of persons testing.

The latest post-Christmas and New Year holiday spike following the celebrations and partying allowed by loosening of protocols to allow people to party at home was expected – and so was the Omicron effect, which by mid-December had offered enough early-warning signs and signals everywhere that our turn was just a matter of time.

The spike having reached near danger-levels before Christmas came with clear warnings that while Omicron was not yet detected, it could have been the cause, yet people were allowed to gather-at-home in crowds as large as 35 because of a stated view that people’s rights to celebrate or observe religious or traditional holidays were considered.

That cruise ships have started calling into Port Castries under strict regulations that don’t allow visitors to enter the tourism Vendors Arcades, require taxi-drivers to be vaccinated and tie travel agents and tour operators to strict schedules that severely limit or bar, even outlaw, interaction with vendors and day-to-day tourism stakeholders, has helped harden the majority stakeholders with minority earnings.

Taxi drivers and minibus operators are easily led to believe the rigid COVID prevention systems in place were designed ‘to give more to those who already have-it-all’ and box them ‘out-of-the-box’ – and the tide has now turned against the visitors arriving through the island’s air and sea ports, visitors in quarantine at hotels not the latest ‘proof’ that tourism is the main factor pumping the island’s COVID rates higher.

In the absence of any direct responses from the National Tourism and/or Health & Wellness authorities, or the National Covid Management Center (NCMC), efforts to encourage vaccination continues to be left to people to decide without the necessary information about the real reasons – the very many – for the current spike, which is still being treated in great part as just another high wave breaking on our shores.

The Unvaccinated

In a situation where the selfsame genie in the morning and evening virgin lamps is also identifying but under-stating the contribution of Saint Lucians’ forever-hunger-and-thirst for ‘fete’ as a major reason, The Unvaccinated are being left to ‘democratically decide’ whether to exercise their option of exercising their ‘individual right’ risk their lives and threaten those of others, The Vaccinated included.

As seen in Britain and Australia where politicians generally play to the public gallery and pander to whatever the feelings of their voting constituents on issues that can affect public opinion, the Caribbean is no less prone, resulting in the responsibility of public agencies established to lead and advise on the fight against the Delta and Omicron COVID Twin-demic to be more ready to advise directly and not only talk safe with muted tongues.

If national emergency organizations and entities all agree to ride the waves and tides in accordance with how the wind blows instead of using compasses, the ship of state will wreck on the rocks of indecision or taking wrong decisions, even if with good intent.

Such agencies must find the means of communicating sensitive concerns directly to the political directorate in language they will both understand and believe, in the confidence that goes with such exchanges, with respect for the confidentiality involved, instead of employing not-so-transparent means to silently voice well-placed concerns.

There ought to be no situation where any entity involved in the fight against COVID-19 can be without answers to genuine questions about government policies; and no government authority, whether minister or ministerial, ought to remain silent about issues that negate efforts to advance people’s understanding of just why everyone has to understand that this is a life-and-death matter.

One is neither amazed nor amused when asked ‘Who advises the Government on COVID?’ because most of those who need to know and understand – The Unvaccinated in particular – genuinely don’t know; and not because they are looking for someone to blame as much as they want to know who to go to and ask for answers to their burning questions.

I constantly repeat that the messaging is wrong and the government needs to take two steps back to make those many single steps forward necessary to overcome the fact that not enough people are vaccinated and those who have not vaccinated are not easily inclined to simply wake-up one morning and decide to take the jab.

The obvious costly absence of effective messaging is further exacerbated by the near permanent over-reliance on tried-but-failed traditional methods.

Social Media

There seems to be an ill-advised abundance of reliance on Facebook and Social Media for messaging without actually measuring the effect, as the messengers at all top levels behave like they seem to believe that everyone has a Facebook account.

By being allowed to be driven mostly by online and social media reactions than by what people say on the long Social Distancing like outside supermarkets and banks on payday weekends or when they are required to abide by mask and vaccination protocols, many decisionmakers and messengers end-up shooting in the air and spitting in the sky while the anti-vaxxers go straight to the hearts of the confused undecided majority.

I strongly believe that the overdependence on Facebook for everything from learning to messaging without the necessary levels of creative application to local and national circumstances is a fundamental error that contributes as much to people’s understanding (or lack thereof) as the disinformation allowed to be propagated in the name of respect for Freedom of Expression without any recognition of the usually selectively-disregarded responsibilities of media houses and contributors to national opinion and debate to be truthful and fair, balanced and non-aligned.

Thing is, never mind that almost everyone everywhere these days is a Layman Scientist who knows everything about COVID and freely-quotes mostly-unverified ‘online’ source they ‘heard’ of or were ‘Forwarded to me by a friend’, not all Saint Lucians have a Facebook account — and the significant minority who do, don’t necessarily use it to follow politics or COVID.

The guaranteed effects of personal messaging and direct contact have been replaced by online messaging and for as long as those who need the messages the most continue to mix-up access to information with use of that access.

For example, all Saint Lucians have free access to all beaches and we’ll kick-up a storm if and when any hotel tells us we cannot bathe in-front of its property, but most Saint Lucians hardly go to the beach.

Ditto access to the internet: every Saint Lucian who wishes to can so do, but how many make use of that access – and for what?

I do not expect that the Facebookers, Twitters and Instagrammers to agree with me, but I’m accustomed to not being agreed with when I came-up with uncomfortable facts – like when I say every year at this time that most Saint Lucians are unaware that Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize jointly, or with who.

I’m used to being called ‘Bad News Brown’ because I’ve not allowed negative responses to blunt my determination to let decisionmakers know who’s saying what about the decisions they take and not at all hiding the Bad News just because the recipient may feel uncomfortable.

Discomfort ought to be the least consideration in matters of life and death and that’s being best shown in the COVID fight by the way China insists on a ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach to fighting the pandemic, locking-down entire cities of millions of people where even one case is detected, to ensure all are tested and no one takes the virus in or out.

Australia’s ‘No Nonsense’ approach led to the longest national lockdown on earth (more than 200 days), but that sacrifice by its people has also resulted in the island-continent registering the highest level of vaccination on the planet, at over 96%.

The failure of (some of) the Biden administration’s Mandatory policies and the Trudeau governments hardline approaches and the experiences across Europe have shown that mandatory vaccination should only be a last resort when everything-else has failed.

But so has the failure of the world’s richest countries to deliver on their promises to help vaccinate the rest of the world, especially the poor and developing nations where the vast majority of the world’s population reside.

The politicians and billionaires behind it all know that COVID-19 will remain for as long as vaccination rates are lower than prescribed and for as long as The Unvaccinated continue to be majority in any one country on Planet Earth, but still come-up with reasons and explanations for not delivering on solemn promises at global summits and ahead of crucial national elections.

For as long as there’s money to be made on COVID, all will be done to milk every cent before the world is cured of its ills; indeed, just this week Oxfam noted that according to Forbes figures, the world’s top ten richest persons doubled their profits since the pandemic was declared, making more money since March 2020 than in all the previous 14 years put together – and at the same time, over 130 million people have become poorer on the planet, thanks to COVID.

And for as long as there’s money to be made from holiday cruises and airline travel, ships and planes trafficking visitors between ports will continue to do the most they can to least affect their profits, which is why the cruise lines serving the Caribbean from Florida have resorted to each canceling cruises on one ship and transferring it into a hospital ship to transport passengers and crew who contract COVID abroad.

Saint Lucia and other Caribbean countries have adopted the necessary measures to as much as possible reduce the entry of the virus by cruise ship passengers by strictly limiting what ships can enter (based on their overall medical declarations 24-hours before arrival) and ensuring least possible chances of possible transmission by strictly limiting contact between those allowed ashore and unvaccinated service providers.

But all such positive actions will be brought to naught if the main messaging by the main messengers continues to be wrong and the messages continue to be air-mailed to persons without postboxes.

Meanwhile, there continue to be a need for a national review of all related decisions taken before Omicron, like the plans for a 2K22 ‘Vaxx Mas’ for only The Vaccinated, which, to most with minds clear of just how bad an idea that is, remains a major concern as the new year has begun.

No one can convince anyone that given Saint Lucians’ insatiable taste and love for a good time and in the absence of Carnival for two years, that The Vaccinated will be guaranteed safe in any enclosed environment, as, no matter how safe the plans to keep the Unvaccinated out, it’s just a chance that can’t be taken in the age of Omicron and fact that the 4th Wave followed Carnival-style reveling in the closing days of the July 2021 general elections that also ushered-in the arrival of the Delta virus.

The 5th Wave was acknowledged indirectly by the decision-makers as if it was something not worth admitting or the associated national shame should be hidden – like when Saint Lucia was declared The Diabetic capital of the World and instead of putting that sorrowful status to work for us on the global stage, the national health and wellness directorate also opted instead to also bow in mistaken shame.

If we continue to allow The Unvaccinated to get accustomed to expecting ‘the next wave’ instead of saying and doing some things we’ve never tried but have worked well elsewhere to get the message to people in language they can understand and with signs The Unbelieving cannot but see.

Just like we don’t seem to care about ensuring government departments use only national flags with the Cerulean Blue that was invented by the national artist to distinguish it from others, so we done even seem to care whether the masks we use are good or bad, once we can say our faces are ‘covered’.

But not all hope is lost, as more people are also opting to tax their own commonsense to decide for themselves to get tested to determine whether they have become victims of Omicron – an hence the increased numbers that even the messengers seem and sound scared to see in that different light.

Wooden Goggles

Blinded by what the messenger in George Odlum described as ‘wooden goggles’, those who only want to see as far as they will allow their eyes to see will continue to beat on silent drums and send invisible cloud signals in an age when messaging has so transformed that every nation’s children are better at it than parents and adults.

Yet we continue to treat our children as being incapable of learning online at home without eagle-eyed and clawed supervision by teachers equally scared of being affected at work – and when the rest of the world is starting to vaccinate their children, we continue to treat the majority of the population just like we do at elections: they have no say in matters affecting them until they reach Voting Age.

The Boris Johnson administration’s health planners got around that ahead of the 2021 winter season by offering jabs to children and students with or without parental knowledge, allowing them to decide for themselves and guaranteeing them their parents will not know.

Are we anywhere close to allowing those whose future we claim to want to protect their right to help decide what we’re doing in their name?

Seems not…

Meanwhile we continue to paddle the canoe in the same direction, without direction, in the age when satellite navigation still depends on the compass.

Let’s see where we’ll land or wreck in the current course…

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