The policies, programmes and action plans of T&T’s Covid-19 decision-makers continue to give priority to a single policy objective: save lives above all else.
Pressing considerations to include reopening the country’s borders, returning the nation’s children to the classroom environment, and most important, expanded reopening of the hardest hit sectors of the economy where the most vulnerable reside—leisure, hospitality and general services, demand a retreat from so narrow a policy focus.
There is little evidence that borrowed jargon characterised by phrases such as “following the science”, “lives over livelihoods” and “we are all in this together” have had much, if any, over-arching influence on policy formulation and roll out; and with each passing day it appears that John Public is becoming more and more aware that there is a disconnect between such politically charged language and programmes and action plans on the ground; weariness with the exhortations on behaviour is becoming apparent.
Truth be told there has been little or no change in the thought processes and philosophy that guided and shaped policy formulation and implementation re Covid-19 in March 2020 when little was known of the life cycle and devastating impacts of the wily bug. Since then a surfeit of information has been gathered locally and internationally. With application of the latter (termed “science”) one would have expected a more nuanced approach to “saving lives” but this has not been the case.
Reality on the ground is that the human cost: dislocated workers with consequential loss of earnings and elevated levels of food insecurity, heightened depression and anxiety, diminished physical health, widening of the digital divide, reduced levels of educational attainment, and more, have been disproportionately borne by segments of the community already anchored in broader injustices that exceed the bounds of this letter. When these skewed human costs are coupled with recent events that suggest rare and minimal benefits in the dire Covid-19 scenario are distributed in a manner reminiscent of Orwell’s classic Animal Farm, it is clear that, in fact, we are not all in this together.
With the ten months that have elapsed since the advent of the virus, enough science has been gathered to apply restoring forces that can accelerate the swing of the pendulum to a more equilibrium position between lives and livelihoods; really, when given some thought, between lives and lives.
In terms of risk assessment the current situation for T&T is: Covid-19 is uncontrolled overseas; limited community transmission is occurring locally; and these occurrences are in multiple regions across the country in the more densely populated areas.
The virus has never “raged” in T&T. Even on the worst day, September 18, 2020 when newly confirmed cases reached the pinnacle of 217, T&T would not have qualified for the internationally accepted benchmark of a hotspot, i.e. 25 and above newly confirmed cases daily per 100, 000 persons. Using this measure the score on that day would have been 15.5 assuming a population of 1.4 million persons (1.35 million residents and 50,000 visitors—some illegal); hardly a hotspot.
With regard to reopening the borders the Government has already tipped its hand by removing the Arima Hospital (150 beds) from the parallel health care system. The rationale for the exemption requirement unique to T&T, was fear that without this restriction returning residents from countries where the virus remains uncontrolled would overwhelm the system; this fear no longer has basis.
The foregoing is a response to the sober reality that a vaccine may not bring the early rescue that we crave, and we may have to live with the virus for a long time. Given this factor, there is need to clearly articulate what objectives are to be prioritised. The goal of an economic opening should be to mitigate the important human costs described earlier.
The science places T&T in a good enough place in respect of the virus that decisions can be made without sub-prioritising such costs to the mantle of saving lives.