Dr Rowley seeks to address rampant virus with ‘public sector safe zones’; but will Duke shoulder arms?

At just past 4pm today, the Ministry of Health reported 33 deaths from Covid-19 over the past 24 hours.

And, in a statement that is likely to be lost in the shrill of responses to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s latest promised pandemic measures, chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram said his ministry intends to establish a mass site in Freeport for the storage of victims of the unseen virus.

Photo: Ministry of Health chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram prepares to face the media at a virtual media conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

The government is struggling to keep up with the number of bodies awaiting burial after succumbing to the novel coronavirus. It is the sort of news that should make one’s blood run cold.

For context, Trinidad and Tobago’s homicide figure for 2021 is roughly 400. To some, such wanton loss of life is enough to justify curbing the right to bail, arming business persons via dubious processes, and putting up with a cinema buff who spent more time insulting citizens and pretending to be the sheriff of Gotham City than apprehending ‘big fish’.

Yet, there have been 402 deaths to Covid-19 in less than three weeks. What do we do about that? Keep relying on hand sanitisers and face masks?

Today, Dr Rowley ramped up the government’s response to the virus. From an unspecified time in January, public sector workers will have to show their vaccination cards to be allowed to work.

Without the card, they will be furloughed—effectively sent on unpaid leave.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

The Prime Minister described it as turning the Public Sector into ‘safe zones’, with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi then explaining that it was actually like the safe zones in which some segments of the Private Sector currently engage. Only the workers are vaccinated but the patrons are not.

“We are not mandating anyone to be vaccinated,” said Dr Rowley. “We are creating safe zones. It is the creation of safe zones within the Public Sector…”

What is safe about a zone that will still be accessible to unvaccinated patrons or students? It was like trying to explain a pregnant virgin, with no angel in sight.

The bullish candour with which Dr Rowley closed Trinidad and Tobago’s borders on 16 March 2020 has gone. Perhaps the humbling of the PNM’s defeat in the recent Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections has made the Prime Minister more insecure.

But Dr Rowley needed to do something. And, to his credit, he did—even if he mislabelled it.

Photo: A doctor administers the Covid vaccine in Trinidad.
(via MoH)

Within minutes, the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago issued a media release which urged the government to include the Private Sector in the legislation necessary to legalise the proposed Covid response.

Judging from similar positions already taken by Republic Bank and Mario’s Pizzeria, there are many in the Private Sector who are willing to turn to vaccination, based on medical advice that it leads to better resistance against the virus and can save lives and lessen hospitalisations and transmission.

Surely to continue to rely on the current measures, as the morgues swell, is insanity.

At present, based on figures presented today at the Ministry of Health’s press conference, the rate of vaccination within the country’s labour force ranges from the impressive 90% in Republic Bank to 20% at the Fire Service.

The fact that the Police Service, Prisons, Defence Force, Immigration and Fire, which collectively employ roughly 20,000 persons, all have significantly lower vaccination rates than the rest of the public—which itself is insufficiently vaccinated—suggests complacency.

Photo: Police officers applaud the hard work of the country’s nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, less than half of the TTPS is vaccinated.
(via TTPS)

“The biggest delinquent is the government,” said the Prime Minister. “The government cannot accept delinquency in a pandemic… We will do what is required to bring all of us out of this.”

Time will tell if Dr Rowley has recaptured the steel and clarity displayed in the initial months of the pandemic. 

Just two months ago, the government relented on its vaccination mandate for schoolchildren as parents dug their heels in. It is true that children may have ended up punished for vaccine hesitancy that was forced on them by misguided parents. 

But the decision to stay the course will not be easy if nurses—already in scarce supply—refuse to take the ‘jab’. 

At present, the vaccination rate in the Tobago, North Central, and North West Regional Health Authorities is 50%, 48% and 45% respectively.

Photo: Nurses get ready for battle at the NCRHA.
At present, the vaccination rate within the RHAs is lower than the national average.
(via NCRHA)

Throw the rambunctious PSA president Watson Duke into the mix, fresh off helping inspire the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) to an almighty walloping of the PNM in Tobago, and it would be easy for Dr Rowley’s attempt to vaccinate the Public Sector to become an unsightly cookolooks-measuring competition between Prime Minister, Attorney General and a defiant Deputy Chief Secretary.

Al-Rawi’s push to have Duke sever his formal bond with the union is likely to be seen in a different light now.

A knee-jerk reaction from Duke, by capitalising on the obvious vaccine hesitancy of the PSA’s employees, would be easy. And probably politically satisfying. But would it be morally responsible?

The hope is that Duke is so secure about his own influence and ingenuity on both islands that he does not need to take every opportunity to show it.

Tobago belongs to the PDP, and Duke will have many chances to make the Central Government squirm in the future. Good luck to him and that.

Photo: PDP political leader, THA deputy chief secretary and PSA president Watson Duke.
(via PDP)

The country’s fight against the Covid-19 virus is bigger than any political party or anyone’s ministerial or other ambitions.

In a gesture of goodwill, the Prime Minister announced the opening of beaches ‘for therapeutic purposes’ from 5am to noon, starting on 20 December 2021.

There is to be no alcohol, no loud music and no partying at a public beach while beachgoers must wear masks once they are not in the water.

Dr Rowley ordered the shutdown of the Public Sector, except essential services, from 24 December 2021 to 2 January 2022—so as to slow the spread of the virus. He urged workers to use that time to ‘reflect, ponder and cooperate’.

Come 2022, one would hope, Trinidad and Tobago will be united against the enemy in our midst: Covid-19.

There is literally nothing more important than that.

Photo: A Covid-19 victim.

If you are unconvinced, remember this: over the last 23 months, Trinidad and Tobago has had 796 murders; in the past 22 months, the Covid-19 deaths number 2,560.


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One comment

  1. Excellent! Long overdue! Collective rights supersede individual rights.

    P.S. Later for Duke.

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