The mixed reaction to the Government’s selection of measures for easing the country out of the lockdown imposed in late August underscores the challenge of balancing lives and livelihood. The anguish expressed by business interests is understandable.
Having declared their businesses to be on the brink, many had gone to great lengths to show how they could resume operations safely, only to find that other areas, possibly posing equal or even greater risk, have been cleared for re-opening. It is possible that a better calibrated relaxation regime could reduce risks more while opening up more of the economy.
A major surprise is the decision to allow casinos to re-open while keeping restaurants and bars closed, including those with outdoor spaces. If there is a logic to this, Dr Rowley did not explain. As he emphasised, there are not enough policing resources to watch over everyone’s shoulder but even if there were, casinos and private members’ clubs are among the most well-connected and guarded establishments, which make them more difficult to monitor than other public businesses. In St Maarten, for example, casinos were recently identified with a major infection spike.
The churchgoing population would be relieved to return to in-person worshipping, but they may be wondering why they should be limited to one hour of worship while cinema-goers enjoy two hours and more in enclosed, air-conditioned spaces. Cinema operators, on the other hand, would question why, with appropriate social distancing and spacing, patrons cannot enjoy food and drink bought takeaway from their fast food outlets.
The public’s loudest cheer was for the re-opening of beaches, and even here one would have expected the longing to return to sea and walk on the beach to be balanced against the risk of infection spread associated with the las lap weekend before the August lockdown. In Barbados, for example, this was managed by opening beaches for a few hours in the morning.
One murky area on which the Government must elaborate is the exemption process in the context of closed borders. We welcome the proposal to remove the application requirement for exemption to return home, for we see no need for the Minister of National Security to continue in the role of immigration officer. However, that would be only half of the equation, the other half being flights into the country. Exemption or not, it is pointless to tell people they can come home without having a well-publicised schedule of approved flights.
Even now, persons approved for exemptions cannot return because international flights are limited to ad hoc flights using Caribbean Airlines. The fact that the process is being handled through the ministry probably explains the problem of empty seats resulting from cancellations by persons selected for flights. We accept that the borders cannot be simply thrown open since entry into T&T must be co-ordinated with the management of quarantine, isolation and hospital facilities. Hopefully, the integrated management team will develop a transparent, well-coordinated and effective re-opening of the borders.Ultimately, every ease comes with its risks, which is why the responsibility falls on each person to protect themselves and others.