“[…] Leaders are supposed to provide proposals and take actions that offer a way forward, to tell us how we can get out of a crisis situation. They are to offer hope and inspire us to do what is necessary.
“Dr Keith Rowley did none of this last night. It was a spectacular failure of communication at a crucial moment in our fight against the Covid-19 virus…”
The following response to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s Address to the Nation on the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was submitted to Wired868 by Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah:
Last evening, the Prime Minister delivered a prime-time Address to the Nation. Citizens expected some major announcement of initiatives to deal with the horrific numbers of Covid-related deaths and cases of Covid-positive persons that we are now experiencing.
Leaders are supposed to provide proposals and take actions that offer a way forward, to tell us how we can get out of a crisis situation. They are to offer hope and inspire us to do what is necessary.
Dr Keith Rowley did none of this last night. It was a spectacular failure of communication at a crucial moment in our fight against the Covid-19 virus. The Prime Minister spent most of the 45 minutes of prime-time repeating what he has said on numerous occasions. We did not need to hear about all the history of Covid and what has been this country’s (and his government’s) response to the pandemic.
We needed to hear what new concrete steps will be taken to save lives. But we got nothing, except a hint that what is being done elsewhere in the world could be done here.
One media headline today said the PM offered hope for Carnival and a return to beaches. But there was no hope that action will be taken to reduce deaths.
The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is extremely concerned about the very high numbers of Covid-positive cases and, in particular, the large numbers of persons who are dying in our country. We have now sadly topped 2,000 Covid-positive deaths—the vast majority of whom passed away within the last six months.
Of great concern is the fact that we now have children getting very sick with some as young as seven years old dying. In the last 24 hours, 31 persons died. It has been calculated that one out of every 700 people in the country have died from Covid-19. Every day, 600 people come down with Covid.
For us to truly appreciate the terrible story of these numbers, we need to tell the story not as a statistic but as names, faces and the family members left behind.
The 2,040 people who have died with Covid should cause us great alarm. Imagine if we had 31 murders in 24 hours; or that 1,800 people were killed violently in the last six months. What a huge outcry there would be!
Vigils would be held, marches would take place, strongly worded statements would have been issued by business organisations, front page editorials with bold red and black headlines would have been published.
Yet none of this is happening now with Covid-related deaths. It’s business as usual, things ‘normal’.
Yes, there are vaccines available, but the key issue is ‘trust’. If someone doesn’t trust the government—and this is not a T&T issue, it is global as increasingly people don’t trust those in authority because they have been lied to and given false promises, or had their lives made miserable because of government policies—then they won’t trust the government’s advice to get vaccinated.
The message is lost because the messenger isn’t trusted by everyone. In our polarised political environment, this crisis of trust is multiplied. The Government has been a poor communicator. Chastising people who may have doubts or are ‘hesitant’ turns them off.
We are therefore stuck at a vaccination rate that is less than 50% of those who are eligible for a vaccine. The virus can run rampant in the 50% who are not vaccinated and this will increase the possibility that the vaccinated will also contract Covid. This is where we are now.
Some countries have decided that the only way to go is either shutting down again or mandating everyone to be vaccinated. Some are doing both. MSJ advocates neither. Doing nothing is also not an option.
- The MSJ therefore proposes that the Government changes its overly cautious policy of waiting for WHO approval for every measure to be taken. This can mean:
- Accessing one of the vaccines produced by Cuba for use here. Many of our citizens may trust the Cuba medical system and scientific advances more and this trust can be translated into reducing hesitancy. It is better to act now and have another 50-100,000 people vaccinated than to wait for WHO approval and see hundreds more die. This should be the first step towards a joint T&T-Cuba bio-technology centre to be built here to produce vaccines and other bio-technology products;
- Open up the third ‘jab’ of the Sinopharm vaccine for everyone over 18. We have enough doses of Sinopharm to allow for this. It would increase the immunity of hundreds of thousands of people and thus reduce the numbers of breakthrough cases;
- Similarly open up the eligibility of persons who have been vaccinated with Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer to get a third shot and procure vaccines to provide for this;
- Consideration of vaccination for children 5-11 years old.
Staff shortages, coupled with medical personnel who are exhausted, can result in patient care being compromised. Our suggestions to increase the human resources in the healthcare system are the following:
- Appeal to T&T nationals in the healthcare sector who live abroad and who may have recently retired and seek to have them return ‘home’ to assist with this national health crisis;
- Initiate appropriate actions to tangibly demonstrate support for healthcare workers in the public sector to ensure that we don’t lose any existing staff;
- Approach Cuba again as that country has gotten its numbers of cases and deaths down to a very low number due to their very high (90% plus) vaccination rate and may have additional health care professionals who can come to Trinidad and Tobago.
Finally, we urge doctors in private practice to encourage as many as possible to get vaccinated. Every doctor in private practice should be calling their patients/clients to encourage vaccination. That is your responsibility under the Hippocratic Oath.
On our part, the MSJ has already hosted three programmes on social media providing information on and educating people about Covid and the importance of vaccination. We will continue to educate and encourage people to be vaccinated and to offer proposals for dealing with this national crisis.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s full Address to the Nation on his government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.