It is clear now that the pandemic began to get the better of us in March and April and succeeded in surging to almost overwhelming proportions in the just concluded month of May.
Although prematurely boastful, we appeared to have done well in restraining the advance of the pandemic for the preceding 12 months. Sadly we began this month facing a worrying future.
There is, in my view, a distinction between accountability and blame. Persons in public life in our polarised political environment have difficulty in making the distinction. Persons in cabinet office, in particular, are frequently incapable of distinguishing citizens who, acting in furtherance of accountability, dissent or make recommendations from other citizens, who are full-throated allies of tribal type opposition.
The government seeks to place responsibility for this sad state of surge on citizen behaviour and tries to evade any accountability for it. I have suggested that the government bears a significant share of that responsibility. It let Easter loose in the face of evidence of ominous increases in infections, which was available in early-March.
Another subject for serious accountability, and one not to be diminished because it also features in the zig-zag utterances of the opposition, is the continuing arrival of Venezuelan migrants.
Some facts cannot be doubted. The number of migrants is significant. They do not enter with the sanction of the Immigration Department of the Ministry of National Security. Their arrival is sometimes assisted by racketeering elements, some of whom may be persons acting in betrayal of their duty of fidelity to the state.
The minister of national security has acknowledged in a media conference that fifteen beaches are ‘active points of illegal entry’ (Trinidad Guardian 3 May 2021).
In light of those facts, repeated references to our ‘porous borders’ cannot be objectionable. What incurs the wrath of the government are two expressions of opinion. One is that the coast guard is inefficient. The government responds that the opposition, when in government, hobbled the coast guard by cancelling specialised vessels on order.
However, the illegal entry of Venezuelan migrants relates to the defence of our country and is harmful, whether they bring in variants of the virus or not. These illegal activities can be disrupted on land by deployment of the Defence Force supported by police to make the arrests. Such police presence is not even necessary while there is a state of emergency.
Although the introduction of the South American variant of the virus into our country has been confirmed and a Venezuelan migrant (immigration status kept secret) was the first case identified with this variant, the other touchy subject is that illegal migration through these borders is a source of rapid spread of the virus.
This is no time to be touchy. If these illegal points of entry are a gateway for the South American variant, known as the Brazilian or P1 variant, it is not a risk to be tolerated because ‘some variants have been reported to be more virulent and transmissible’ (Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) statement on the P1 variant).
It is also accepted that our country lacks capacity for testing for the presence of this variant. Therefore, the government is extremely unwise to rate the infection risk through porous borders as inconclusive or low.
Moreover, the socio-economic implications of the disruption of the economy by the pandemic, now under the influence of the variant, will be prolonged. These prolonged implications require wider decision making consultations, with accommodation for the cadre of innovative thinkers available here and in the diaspora—to stir up the ideas received from the politically blued-eyed adherents that populate official committees.
Reluctance to embrace the leadership of sectors outside of government runs counter to the exhortations that ‘we are all in this together’. It undermines public trust and limits the persuasive reach of government.
Fortunately, breaking news suggests that a donation of vaccines from the US government will be coming to protect some more, but by no means, all our citizens. That breaking news must be why the attorney general appeared to be late with publishing additional emergency regulations regarding curfew but is real early with an announcement about next Carnival.