Lennox Grant

Lennox Grant

SOCA party-hearty spirit, brilliant weather, and mas players costumed to go marked the promise of the 2020 Jamaica carnival set for next month. Soon, the welcome to the world by tourist-ready Jamaica turned into a wretched bad dream, in common with plans and hopes savaged by the coronavirus threat.

T&T had managed to get in on an exercise giving expression last month to self-profiling as “The home of Carnival: Calypso, Steelband and Mas”. In the immediate “apres Carnival-la”, the incomparably drastic nature of the 2020 real world took hold in language, action, and effects.

Japanese Olympic planners were still hanging in there to derive return in yen and repute from Tokyo’s over-the-top investment of hope and all-in planning. On Sunday, however, Canada, growingly stricken by COVID-19, made clear its non-participation in the Tokyo Olympics, and urged that the games be called off.

This pull-out demonstration, by a first world Commonwealth partner, signalled arrival of the present ultra-crisis moment when nothing of good cheer remains to look forward to. Bottom lines will likely sink lower and lower.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley signalled a physical disconnect from the rest of the world for at least 14 days—and the inescapable necessity to bear the cost. As memorably occurred in 1990, the State enterprise labelled “the national airline” was to be immediate bearer of the cost. During the man-made “coup” calamity, BWIA’s homeward-bound flights ended in Barbados. Travellers out of T&T lined up for seating on the then Neal and Massy mini-airline.

The “business and future (of Caribbean Airlines) are matters for Corporation Sole,” Dr Rowley announced, indefinitely absolving the airline of consequential blame, and identifying his administration as alone answerable. For non-COVID-19 reasons, energy income has taken a dive. To keep on writing an increased number of cheques, the Rowley administration determined to draw from savings as precious as those once held by downmarket people in the Penny Bank.

“If this is not a rainy day, I don’t what is,” he said, expressing fateful intent to withdraw from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund. In the present economic rainstorm, oil and gas, vital sources of economic “rent”, face unusual depression. Amid all other dread indicators, Mariano Browne reminded T&T that the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery reopening may be indeterminably delayed, even as Heritage Petroleum returns fall ever lower. Energy companies are to be “facilitated”, assured Minister Stuart Young, not specifying how.

The result is at best a learning period for life’s steadily worsening outlook. For at least this learner, new terms command understanding and remembering. Where, in common use, were such terms as “risk literacy”, “social distancing”, “herd immunity”, “tertiary institutions (applicable to health)”, and “novel” as identifying a virus? Vocabulary from medical sciences is all around. Epidemiology now belongs to us all. “Never…take our breath for granted,” advised Ira Mathur”. Something like the end of the world is these days conceivable.

Rumshops, beer gardens, betting shops, restaurants, gyms, schools, beaches, swimmable rivers, and churches are ruled places to avoid. My next-door church held something like a service, with microphones voices preaching, praying and singing. Most of the windows, however, remained closed, and gates were locked. Instead of the plentiful Sunday parking, just one car and one SUV stood outside.

By yesterday, however, official new decrees and declarations vowed State punishments for reverend leaders turned holy martyrdom-seeking rebels. From government officials, ever before the cameras broadcasting live, come promises of only more hardening of no-go rules and requirements. Nothing yet has been announced, like the iron-fisted crackdowns and curfews inflicted on T&T public in 1990. But official bad mind prevails against those unimpressed by ministerial earnestness and by the rising, ranting and hectoring, tone of attitude registering on air.

UNC opposition MPs voted for toughened new measures imposing emergency-type measures and penalties. They, nevertheless, reserved the right to voice criticisms of government imposition of ever more strictures. In return, ministers express irritation that their every word may not be accepted as stated.

Mr Young took the microphone to denounce “hollow talk (and) irresponsible behaviour by the Opposition”. He affirmed the Rowley administration action is only mirroring what other governments are implementing and admonishing. “I condemn the Opposition,” he said, adding: “Stop politicking!” As if identifying Opposition talkers for attack, in an election year, is not itself also “politicking”!

It shortly appeared that the frequent TV appearances were taking their toll on ministerial capacity for coolth. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had suggested, almost off-handedly, that the government should dispatch a CAL aircraft to repatriate 70 T&T citizens stranded in Margarita. Dr Rowley resisted the implication he could appeal to the Maduro government for special leave to pick up locals trapped in the ever-worsening misery of Venezuela.

The PM had last year installed in his Government a public relations specialist in Donna Cox. But on this demanding occasion for communications, Senator Cox’ role appears reduced to that of a headwaitress at best.

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It is a well-established truism that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On the basis of and in recognition of this reality, conversations are taking place among various professional and sectoral elites about how not to let this moment pass without taking advantage of it.

The action taken by the Government over the past two or three weeks with respect to control and containment of the COVID-19 virus, which has been in line, by and large, with the action taken by other countries, ought to be supported if we are to weather this virulent epidemic.

The T&T public is generally satisfied with how the government has handled this Covid-19 crisis to date. On the other hand, one senses a reluctance, if not open fear, to express a contrary opinion or suggestion. Why risk being called divisive or inappropriate?

Speaking recently in New York, the state governor, Andrew Cuomo, said: “The stress, the emotion, is just incredible, and rightfully so. It is a situation that is one of the most disruptive that I have seen, and it will change almost everything going forward. It will. That is a fact. It’s not your perception. It’s not just you. It’s all of us and it’s true and it’s real. Nobody can tell you when this is going to end... It will change almost everything.”

Nerves are frayed, tempers are on the edge, patience is dissolving. In any prolonged period of stress, the psychological toll is amplified. Even those who are generally composed—the Unflappables—can slip into a crack.