Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has rightly served notice that he will not be granting permission for marches and vigils, given the new rise in Covid-19 infections.
Having experienced a full-blown crisis between August and October last year, the entire population should be anxious to nip this latest surge in the bud.
Faced with similar situations, some governments have not placed their faith in the public’s willingness to comply. New Zealand, for example, has been very well-served by imposing hard temporary lockdowns to snuff out the virus at the first sign of an uptick. As good as we in Trinidad and Tobago have so far done, New Zealand, with a population of five million, has recorded 26 deaths and 2,476 cases in contrast to the T&T’s 141 deaths and 7,924 cases in a population of 1.4 million.
Commissioner Griffith’s decision to clamp down, therefore, is a move to be supported. If anything, he should be serving notice not only on persons planning marches and vigils, but on everyone inclined to breach any of the Covid-19 regulations. The sustained low infection between November and a week ago has bred a habit of complacency that might not be easily shaken. The evidence of people letting down their guard abounds outside bars, inside restaurants, in markets, on the streets, funerals, recreation grounds, beaches and other places of assembly. While Commissioner Griffith is right to single out marches, vigils and gatherings associated to the next week’s Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day and Easter holidays, the reality is one of widespread breach.
In exercising his authority not to grant permission for marches and vigils, Commissioner Griffith and his officers must be sensitive to the Constitution and guard against overstepping the bounds of the law. It is public knowledge that several civic organisations and trade unions are actively organising and mobilising around anti-crime and labour interests. To avoid any perception of them being targeted by the police, we urge the commissioner and these groups to engage each other in the interest of avoiding unnecessary confrontation.
It is a fact that in several countries Covid-19 regulations are being used to suppress anti-government sentiment. This has so far not been T&T’s experience, and every effort should be made to keep it so through meaningful communication between the TTPS and sectoral interests.
The news that the first batch of 33,600 vaccines from the WHO’s COVAX facility will arrive on Wednesday should mitigate some of the national anxiety over repeated and disappointing delays. Although it represents just one third of the 100,000 doses secured by the Government through COVAX, it is the start of what we hope will be a steady stream.
We note that the public is yet to get a clear statement from the Ministry of Health about precisely how this lot will be distributed and to whom. If a lack of transparency causes the vaccine distribution programme to degenerate into confusion and allegations of favouritism, nepotism and corruption, the government would have no one to blame but itself. They should consider themselves warned.