letters to the editor

The Government has been advising us to stay-at-home (S@H) during the coronavirus (CV) epidemic. What does S@H really mean? It depends on your status. If you are showing the symptoms (even of a normal flu) or have a confirmed case of CV, S@H means “quarantine” or lockdown. You don’t go anywhere—full stop—unless that is a trip to your doctor or the hospital (but calling ahead first). For those at risk with underlying conditions or over 60, it means just about the same thing, except for exercise.

If you are an employee and cannot work from home, it means going to work and back, while practicing social distancing (SD) in between. If you are anyone else (not employed and showing no symptoms), what can you do? Well, you (and employed persons) can surely leave home to get groceries, medication or other essential items. But, what does it mean in terms of mounting “cabin fever,” the itch to get out of the house?

While bars, restaurants, casinos, theatres, gyms and similar places are obvious places where CV can be spread, what about the need to get out for exercise, walking the dog, or going for a drive?

Are those activities permitted and under what circumstances?

What is wrong with fresh air? Let’s examine some scenarios.

The most obvious is walking the dog, going for a walk, or a run—in the neighbourhood. There should not be any problems here as long as SD is practised. How about leaving the neighbourhood to go to a park?

There is nothing inherently wrong with going to the park, as long as it is not crowded and one practices SD or leaves when one sees too many people there.

Now for the tricky one, our beaches. The government has closed all beaches that have facilities. This could be considered reasonable, as many do not go there to swim but to lime. What about other beaches?

Can I go to the east coast beaches, where the closest person to me is over a football field away?

What is the danger in that?

For beaches with facilities, I would think that the same rules that apply to a park would apply here, but in these frequented beaches there could be a uniformed patrol that monitors the situation in terms of separation (including escorting people to spaced-out areas) and total capacity—and like a full parking lot—puts up a sign saying the beach has reached its safe limit and small family groups can queue for entry or move on.

How about going for a drive? That is a safe way to get out of the house while avoiding others. The only exposure points are refuelling (and most pumps have a credit card facility to avoid human contact) and for long rides, to stop at a take-away eating establishment. Or, better yet, make a picnic meal to avoid takeaways altogether. Most trips should not have a destination that is not home, especially visiting relatives, unless you are dropping off supplies and leaving right away. In this mobility vein, bicycling, should also be okay, as it provides good exercise.

I also think the term “social distancing” is misleading. In this time, we need to be emotionally close but physically distant, so a better term would be “body distancing.”

The Government must be careful not to clamp down too severely on its definition of S@H—if people are acting responsibility—or cabin fever could explode.

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It is a well-established truism that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On the basis of and in recognition of this reality, conversations are taking place among various professional and sectoral elites about how not to let this moment pass without taking advantage of it.

The action taken by the Government over the past two or three weeks with respect to control and containment of the COVID-19 virus, which has been in line, by and large, with the action taken by other countries, ought to be supported if we are to weather this virulent epidemic.

The T&T public is generally satisfied with how the government has handled this Covid-19 crisis to date. On the other hand, one senses a reluctance, if not open fear, to express a contrary opinion or suggestion. Why risk being called divisive or inappropriate?

Speaking recently in New York, the state governor, Andrew Cuomo, said: “The stress, the emotion, is just incredible, and rightfully so. It is a situation that is one of the most disruptive that I have seen, and it will change almost everything going forward. It will. That is a fact. It’s not your perception. It’s not just you. It’s all of us and it’s true and it’s real. Nobody can tell you when this is going to end... It will change almost everything.”

Nerves are frayed, tempers are on the edge, patience is dissolving. In any prolonged period of stress, the psychological toll is amplified. Even those who are generally composed—the Unflappables—can slip into a crack.