At a time when the ability to win public trust could make the difference in the fight against Covid-19, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh’s selective focus for criticism is jarring and counter-productive.
Minister Deyalsingh undermines his own ministry’s efforts when he allows his partisan interest to shape the narrative. A case in point was his singling out of last Tuesday’s anti-government protest at the Queen’s Park Savannah as a potential super-spreader event.
Minister Deyalsingh’s concern would be more credible if he had spoken out clearly and emphatically against the series of Covid-19 regulations in the campaign for today’s Tobago House of Assembly election. In contrast to the Savannah protest whose impact is still to be seen, the data is available to prove the devastating impact of the election campaign.
In the two months since the date of the THA election was announced, the number of positive cases on the island has sky-rocketed by roughly 50 per cent along with a 46 per cent increase in the number of deaths. By comparison, the number of fully-vaccinated people grew by 21 per cent.
As destructive as the campaign has been from a public health perspective, tonight could be even worse when the elections results are called and crowds take to the street to celebrate victory or mourn their defeat. Yet, Minister Deyalsingh has raised no alarms about the deadly super-spreader event that the THA election campaign has become and the very real risk of further explosion tonight.
What we are seeing is the crafting of a politically convenient narrative. On Saturday, for example, when asked for his views on Friday’s marketing motorcade by rum manufacturer Angostura which attracted crowds well in excess of the legal limit of 10 persons, Minister Deyalsingh claimed to know nothing about it. He went on to urge the public to exercise social responsibility since the police can’t be everywhere at once.
Actually, the police were there, functioning in the role as escorts to the blaring motorcade and not as enforcers of the law. Having since reviewed a video of the event, a police spokesperson said the terms and conditions under which the police had granted permission for the motorcade had not been complied with.
It is worth noting that just one month ago, the police denied permission for a motorcade organised by the Movement for Social Justice, the Oilfields Workers Trade Union and the Trinidad and Tobago Scrap Iron Dealers Association. Given the unlikelihood that that motorcade would not have attracted anything like the crowds that rushed to see the rum caravan’s dancing girls on display behind glass, the TTPS should explain why it denied one but allowed the other.
The national effort against the pandemic has not been helped by the apportioning of blame along politically partisan lines. We saw that earlier this year when the Government focused exclusively on the anti-crime protests organised by the Candlelight Movement while accepting no responsibility for pushing Easter tourism to Tobago even as infection numbers and deaths were climbing.
While politicians will be politicians, in the case of Covid-19, allowing politics to trump public health can make the difference between life and death.