This week has been awfully long. How the worm has turned! On Thursday 3 June, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that US vice-president Kamala Harris had promised a substantial vaccine donation.
On Saturday 5 June, he informed that the country had secured 800,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines with an August delivery date. In addition, there was talk about border reopening in four to six weeks. The country exhaled for the first time in months.
Finally, we were seeing the light at the end of the more than year-long troubles. Then this week happened. The nation’s flickering hopes have been severely bruised.
After months of following the science, including vaccinating the member companies in the food chain, why did the minister zigzag? Why, despite a published MFO poll and the Ministry of Heath’s data and maps, was Minister Terrence Deyalsingh surprised by the turnout for vaccinations?
Did the minister not believe the May vaccination achievement (almost 49,000 first dose vaccinations, compared to 57,744 before 6 May), despite the rickety appointment system?
The ministry’s graphs showed a steep projected climb of infections from 2 May; the ministry’s epidemiologist predicted a rise by a factor of five and showed all the national hotspots.
Instead, the minister, in his vaccination roll-out, succumbed to the national preference for anecdotes over evidential data. Like many, including the opposition, did he believe that policy initiatives can be based on hearsay and social media soundbites?
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or other dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” John Adams, 2nd US president.
In one fell swoop, the minister and the cabinet damaged the reputations and hard work of the professionals. Will the hardworking team that has presented every week for more than a year unjustifiably carry the blame for this fiasco? How will there be any attraction of bright young people to public service?
Have we encouraged the overworked doctors and nurses? Having taken the unnecessary risk of accepting CEO Davlin Thomas’ outrageous act, why provoke our best doctors who remain in the public health system?
We all lose, should those doctors leave our public hospitals; and poor people will pay that heavy price. We have lit a fire that will consume us.
On Saturday last, we felt that we would be coming out of a nightmare. Finally, our families would be safe. We held on to the branch of hope offered. We saw and knew persons who died from the lethal disease.
When the minister, whom we had trusted for more than a year, told us to come to the health centres, what is the expected response? We had eagerly anticipated our deliverance from the constant bickering and silly offerings by self-centred politicians and others. Instead, this hope was dashed for all to see.
There is no vaccine to wipe away that insult, or the memories of our lost friends and family. We saw our elders left in the elements, being offered strong doses of disrespect.
How can we easily forget this when we have to decide whether to trust our political leaders in the future? This loss is another milestone in the journey to the bottom of social trust. It adds fuel to the fires of political polarisation.
How will we build community spirit, an essential ingredient for resilience through tough times and a catalyst for success?
The callous disrespect of this week tops the uncertainty and trauma of the last 18 months. Why does the minister believe that the nation would accept that the RHA CEOs—with their supposed target of 50 shots a day per health facility—can dictate the conditions for the vaccination programme?
How many vaccines do we really have in stock? A lack of transparency compromises faith in leaders in a time of uncertainty.
Except for Republic Bank, none of our large businesses stepped up to the plate as Grace Kennedy did in Jamaica. Instead, they were sluggish, begging for help or criticising the bailout efforts.
Shane Mahabirsingh of Bilda Boyz Construction became the unlikely exemplar, as he thoughtfully distributed chairs to elderly persons waiting at the Ste Madeleine Health Centre. Elsewhere, they acted like there would be no tomorrow. They abdicated their role.
Let us stop comparing with Barbados until our business and labour sectors can work together with the government. Until then, we will continue to be numbed by the lack of leadership capacity.
Let us hope that the road ahead will be paved with wisdom from our past mistakes.
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