Daly Bread: Siq transit gloria; is govt’s limited Covid-19 testing a ‘calculated risk’?

My headline today is not a typographical error. As suggested below, it is still uncertain whether the government’s policy of Siq, that is separate, isolate and quarantine is a sound enough response to our Covid-19 crisis. We just don’t know yet.

Sic transit gloria mundi is the full classic incantation from which my headline has departed. Its literal meaning is: ‘Thus passes worldly glory’. This incantation was a tradition of the papacy intended to remind new popes of the transient nature of glory.

Photo: Statue of pope (by DDP on Unsplash)

Following coronation, a new pope was carried aloft on a ceremonial chair. As the procession made its way from St Peter’s Basilica, it would stop three times. Each time a Vatican official would kneel before the pope holding a rod which contained a piece of smouldering cloth. As the cloth burned away, the official would say: “Pater Sancte (Holy Father), sic transit gloria mundi.”

The tradition continued up to and including the coronation of the widely appreciated Pope John XXIII in 1958.

Covid-19 is a unique reminder of our mortality because it is mowing down persons in every country of the world without regard to status. One can readily see how much of worldly power and glory is being humbled in its path.

Trinidad and Tobago, in the prematurely boastful words of the minister of health uttered on Wednesday last, is trying ‘not to lose sight of how well we are doing’. Hopefully, this will not turn out to be a case of siq gloria transit.

Older readers will recall that the country anticipated victory in a World Cup qualifier match on 19 November 1989, and a public holiday for the next day was declared in advance. We despaired when we lost the match.

My scepticism about the soundness of the government’s Siq response arises from the Ministry of Health’s deferential persistence with the exclusivity of CARPHA’s testing facilities and with a limited testing policy, despite promising to establish other testing facilities. Is CARPHA to be used as a convenient shield against government’s accountability for its limited testing policy although PAHO said ‘test, test, test’?

Photo: Testing for Covid-19.

In the context of the lack of more widespread testing with the objective of getting hidden spreaders into isolation as soon as possible, I have a specific unease about leaving it to trust that the illness of patient L, a case not picked up in the official statistics but which led to the first death, was not capable of being spread significantly earlier than March 12, the date of the first officially acknowledged case.

I would prefer to write about the introspection we should all be doing. However, I cannot bury my unease that the government’s policy of limited testing is a calculated risk.

Even some commentators who were rebuking sceptics of the government’s ‘success’ are showing tremors of doubt about restrictions on the amount of information being released and questions that need answers.

Doubts are increased by the national security minister still lapsing into references to ‘mischief” to describe talk that displeases him. Concerned citizens and the media have a duty to make enquiries or pursue an opinion different from his if such scrutiny is warranted in their view of the public interest. The minister should preferably attempt to ‘synchronize his text’ with the commissioner of police, who is in the mode of ‘powers you think I don’t have, I do.’

In passing, why is the government spinning away from the cruise ship patients, when there was ‘personal intervention’ at the highest level to bring them home? Harping on these cases may feed into the unkind view that these citizens are somehow blameworthy.

Photo: A prison inmate.
(Copyright Getty)

With regard to the release of prisoners on remand, the government should have long ago taken up the proposal made in 2016 by former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain, Joseph Harris. He recommended releasing those whose time on remand had been as long or longer than the likely sentence the person on remand might receive if convicted.

Nevertheless, given the putrid remand conditions, let’s be sensible about the prisoner releases now proposed by the attorney general under the supervision of the judiciary.

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About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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