“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” CS Lewis.
Different views abound about the need to stay or not at home. Some bristle at the restrictions and I will confess my discomfort as much as the other person with this isolation.
But is it wise to just chuck it in and adopt a ‘devil take the hindmost approach’? Are our ‘rights’ going to trump our safety?
There is a drumbeat from certain quarters to have us go back to work even before the clearance from the co-ordinating team, which has successfully brought us this far. Its success in managing the potential fallout from the Covid-19 disease empowers some to noisily agitate for their ‘freedom’.
For a moment, it felt like we were all on the same team trying to navigate to safety. But now, like another virus, some seek to infect us with political and other toxins.
They blithely ignore that globally, one in four persons is asymptomatic—meaning they are contagious without any signs. This, if applicable to us, has the potential to upend us even while it appears that we are doing well. To believe that we are over the hump and are virtually free and ‘good to go’ is to disbelieve the possibility of a ‘hidden pool’ of carriers.
In looking at the global situation, this reality is sinking home more and more. Singapore was thought to be a model case in the handling of the disease only to be upended this week by an explosion in the dormitories of their migrant workers.
Mr Lee, in announcing the extension of their lockdown period said, “This short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones and to allow us to revive our economy.”
The New York Times reports that the arrival of the virus in the USA was earlier than the 1 March announcement of the city’s first case. Instead of only 23 confirmed cases, it may have been about 28,000 infections in five major cities at that time.
They, who never go to our overburdened and chaotic public hospitals, care nothing about the potentially fatal repercussions caused by any spike in cases. Can they imagine PoS General under greater siege, should this turn bad?
The success of finding rooms so far does not mean that there is an indefinite capacity of rooms or doctors.
Selfishly, they itch to return to their tills even while our medical heroes play ‘Russian roulette’ defending us.
They claim concern for our workers—the nameless, faceless robots, they use and discard.
Some workers are on the breadline without the courtesy of dialogue about alternative arrangements, since these employers brazenly want the government to pay their workers while they pocket the profit. Others callously use a playbook designed to motivate their political base, never pausing to consider the well-being and soul of the nation.
It is sad that their concern does not translate into providing meals consistently for those for whom they express great concern. Do we have any Chef Andres among us? Do we see those with their pockets bulging with fees supporting any destitute among us? And I do not mean PR stuff!
Where are our great philanthropists?
There is an argument that reopening the economy with ‘speed and vigour’ will remove the pain. Fact check: We are living in a globalised world and we do not set the pace.
A grim Financial Times story this week on the effect on Europe’s jobs tell us what these charlatans do not. The EU’s unemployment rate will double to 11% next year and is unlikely to return to pre-Covid levels until 2024.
One quarter of all private sector jobs will be at risk (74% in food and accommodation, 44% in retail and wholesale). Globally, we face an L-shaped recession, meaning there is no quick ease in sight.
The gas and oil situation exacerbates. Our manufacturers largely sell to Caricom, whose economies have been wrecked by the tourism fallout. How will we emerge quickly and unscathed?
Do not believe them. This is going to be a long hard haul.
Sebastian Stern, McKinsey senior manager, rhetorically asks, “If we open up retail, what’s the impact on the viral transmission rate? Nobody knows.”
But we have a hint from a soon-to-be-published study about ten members from three families who ate at separate tables at the same air-conditioned restaurant in Guangzhou, China. One family had an asymptomatic member who had been in Wuhan. This resulted in nine members being infected. (Lu et al, 2020)
Our local ‘experts and leaders’ wish to pin the coming job losses on the incumbent government. They themselves hold no responsibility. No talk about the long-term rape of the NIS and its virtual insolvency. Yet magically, the NIBTT is expected to pay their abandoned workers.
No talk about the impact of the persistent use of contract workers. No talk about the loss of health insurance for permanent workers, now unemployed.
When Richard Young, in a letter to the Express, raised the issue of tax compliance, there was deafening silence. Mr Colm Imbert stepped up on 10 March 2020 and identified that the IMF had done a VAT gap study which revealed a compliance problem that annually cost the country TT$4 billion.
Nobody commented on that or on the personal income tax and corporate tax non-compliance issues—yet ‘we want we money back’. The payers should be refunded but why not have a crusade to pay the taxes due?
Some businessmen, unprepared to use their cash reserves for one fleeting month, opt to take up the government’s offer to pay their workers. Like Oliver Twist with temerity, they also take the benefits from the monetary policy initiative and yet clamour for more.
We have had two recent periods of significant capital flight (2008/09 and 2015), which we now run the risk of repeating. In 2008/09, we saw net official reserves declined by 18% ($1.5B). This happened amidst reports of nationals, including a named politician, purchasing property in Florida.
In the first six months of 2015, we lost US$803 million. But the poor people were scolded, remember that? We were told they were buying too much from Amazon.
In the same press conference held by Mr Imbert on 10 March 2020 we were told that courier companies were bringing commercial goods valued at $20,000 with no Customs entry.
As Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley advised, ‘them is people to watch’.