Enough has been seen and heard, felt and regretted between the Declaration of the COVID-19 Pandemic in March 2020 and the arrival of Omicron in November 2021 – and since 2022 started – to have urged The VOICE, after much restraint, to directly call on the Prime Minister (and the Government he leads) to do ‘more doing’ and ‘less talking’ and take stronger actions in the people’s interests, instead of pleading with persons yet convinced that getting vaccinated and respecting prevention and protection protocols is the only safe way-to-go in 2022.
In the editorial of its first edition for 2022, the island’s oldest newspaper called directly on Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre to ‘Lead, Not Plead’ with people definitely not yet convinced or simply not interested in protecting themselves, but to see the overwhelming mandate his party received on July 26, 2021 as one to take strong actions in the interests of the people it was elected to serve and protect.
The VOICE’s call would have come after much thought and its message couldn’t have been clearer.
It followed the indirect acknowledgement of the arrival of the long-expected 5th COVID wave by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and the Chair of the National COVID Management Committee, both citing the accelerated levels of infections and registered cases from the last week of 2021.
Same with everywhere else Omicron’s presence has been detected alongside the Delta and SARS-CoV-2 variants.
And with UK hospitalizations increasing many-times-over as new cases speed towards an average 200,000 daily and new cases at an average of 400,000 daily in the USA, there’s increasing concern everywhere about the capacity of national health services to cope with the increased case-loads, especially hospitalizations and Emergency Care Facilities.
There’s also much more concern now than ever about the way Health Providers on the frontline are falling victim to the virus and its effects on provision of Intensive Care at a time when it’s most needed.
And increasingly too, there’s the matter of treating children, who have become more prone to contracting the virus and growing about how best to ensure students can return to classrooms and still be safe from Omicron and Delta.
On the matter of hospitalizations, the CMO and the COVID-19 Management Committee Chairman have both underlined that while there are only 135 beds at the Respiratory Hospital, only 35 can be available at any time.
With only just-over-a-quarter of the population fully-vaccinated, thousands with only one jab and tens of thousands simply unvaccinated – in a population of 175,000 – only 35 beds available after 20 months of the pandemic is an appalling inherited problem begging for the Prime Minister’s urgent and direct attention.
Same with the new problem of Health Providers falling victim to the virus and the inevitable toll on government services, that continue to point to the need for urgent action to train more frontline COVID fighters.
For starters, the Prime Minister can tap on the scores of doctors and hundreds of nurses among the over 900 Saint Lucians who’ve benefitted from free scholarships in Cuba, who can work alongside members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade already here helping fight the COVID battle since 2020.
Same with our children… I am not of the view that Online Learning isn’t good enough for children, that somehow, they must gather in dangerous numbers without guaranteed protection, to be taught by unvaccinated teachers, simply because Home Learning is seen as inconvenient for some parents, teachers and decision-makers.
I’ve interacted enough with today’s infant, primary and secondary students to know that we seriously underestimate their intelligence and their amazing superior capacity to adapt to Online Learning in the Internet Age.
It’s indeed insulting to believe that computer-illiterate adults, teachers who’ve only just adapted to online teaching and decision-makers with no more experience with COVID than anyone else, to assume and conclude that children anywhere, in today’s virtual world, cannot learn at home without adult or supervisory eyes peeping over their backs.
I’ve always held that the fact that children below 12 were excluded from initial COVID vaccine clinical trials and vaccination – until only now — was a serious and potentially-deadly error, if only because children are equal human beings just as capable of contracting the virus.
Now that children are increasingly falling to Omicron while scientists still tear-their-hair-out trying to better understand what it does before it does, the Saint Lucia government shouldn’t wait any longer to follow the CMO’s example (of having her two ‘under-aged’ children vaccinated) and take immediate action to protect the island’s children and students, at home and school, for the rest of 2022.
I entirely endorse The Weekend VOICE’s timely editorial calling on the Prime Minister to stop his commendable and endless but fruitless pleading and take stronger actions in the public interest.
The government’s best efforts in the past five months to encourage and persuade instead of legislating — from decriminalization of protocol violations to relaxation of curfew hours and allowing up to 35 persons to congregate at home for the holidays – have not yielded the expected results.
It’s now for the Prime Minister to turn the government’s page and show an increasingly-concerned populace that he’s not only ‘leading from in front’, but also (like The VOICE advises) always ready to demonstrate his readiness to take the strong political actions necessary to ‘Follow the Science’ and implement required measures – popular or not — to stem the tide of the 5th wave.
However, while stronger actions are clearly-needed to avoid the transition into an inevitable 6th Wave after next month’s 43rd Independence holiday observances and recurring-decimal-type repeats after Easter and Carnival 2K22, there’s also an urgent need for a complete overhaul and upgrade of the government’s entire COVID-19 public education program, if the virus and its current and future variants and accompanying waves are to be kept at bay in 2022 – and beyond.