The new public health regulations announced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday effectively returned the country to the state of lockdown introduced one year ago.
In doing so, the Government has not yet provided details of the announced social support cushion necessary for those whose worlds were turned upside down by the shutdown of retail business.
The Prime Minister sought to prime the population not to expect the kind of financial support provided to broad sections of the population during that first official strike against possible spread of the virus this time last year. He reminded citizens what was effected by way of loans, and of diverting public expenditure from elsewhere in the Government’s public accounts chest. He said this is not an option this time around.
He did so, once more reminding the country what both himself and the Finance Minister have told us these past several weeks: those options are simply not there this time around. He did point out, however, that certain applications of social support to various categories of vulnerable citizens would still be maintained. He said the Minister of Finance was working on a support package in the region of about $50 million for such support.
Dr Rowley’s address yesterday lacked the gravitas with which he had brought to the announcement of last year’s lockdown measures. The status report presented by the medical team from the Ministry of Health, was sufficiently sobering, however, relative to where we are at the moment on this front. In their eminence, Drs Parasram, Hinds and Abdool-Richards presented a scenario that was stark enough to send the message that each of us needs to do whatever we can to stop this virus in its tracks. We are at a tipping point, from which we must beat a hasty and effective retreat, in order to spare ourselves the worst of the pandemic.
In laying out the latest set of restrictions, the Prime Minister admitted to having underestimated the strength of what has come to be referred to as the “street food” sub-sector.
He also frowned on what he termed the “smartmanism” in the society, in which people were using creative means of defying the curbs on hanging out at drinking establishments.
And what yesterday’s address may have lacked in terms of polish, the Prime Minister made up for in conveying head-on reality. He urged the potentially recalcitrant not to expect happiness over the short term with the added cut-backs on individual choice. The expected outcome, he said, is necessary. “Don’t come out if you do not have to, and do not congregate....,” he said bluntly.
The absolute priority is to do whatever we can to push the curve downwards in the next 20 days. It is of some significance also, that the horizon on reinforcements added to these latest containment measures has not been moved past May 23, or the end of the month. If the measures do not succeed, the public health emergency will spiral out of our control, the lockdown will be extended and economic hardship will further compound the public health crisis.
The consequences of such a possibility have also once more been reinforced by the health authorities at yesterday’s update.