The upsurge in the number of active COVID-19 cases in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a serious cause for concern. As of 20th September, there were four hundred and eighty eight (488) active cases and sixteen (16) deaths reported.
It would appear that the policies that the government has implemented since the first case of COVID- 19 was recorded here have failed. There needs to be a more proactive approach by the government in the management of COVID-19. It can even go further where the government can involve the main opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), in the management of COVID- 19, as is being done in other OECS islands. It is highly unlikely that this approach will be adopted by the government.
It is about one year and six months since our country has recorded its first case of COVID-19. Over that period, our economic situation has been affected severely. Bearing in mind that our economy was not doing well before COVID-19. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been at the bottom of the OECS as it relates to economic growth.
The Minister of Finance told us that over four hundred and twenty (420) businesses were closed causing two thousand seven hundred and fifty four (2,754) persons to join the breadline; where unemployment in the country is at its highest since St. Vincent and the Grenadines gained independence in 1979, with a youth unemployment rate of 46% according to the IMF.
COVID- 19 also has serious implication for the health sector. With the limited resources and the poor management of the health sector and complaints that have been made over the years; it must be worrying for Vincentians with this surge, especially for persons in Grenadines.
Education has also been affected. The government was forced to move to online teaching. And it created severe problems for teachers, students and parents and other stakeholders. Some teachers and students lacked the resources necessary to deliver and access online teaching. With schools set to reopen in October and the rapid increase of COVID- 19 cases, we await the decision from the Ministry of Education.
It is said that getting back to normalcy; vaccination is the way to go. This ULP government has failed miserably in implementing an effective vaccination programme. With all the hesitancy of some people and the misrepresentation of the vaccine by others; the government has failed to educate the masses about the importance of the vaccine. So, what have they done? About 3’O clock in the morning of August 6th while most people were asleep, the government passed the Public Health (Amendment) Bill which appears to make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory.
The NDP supports vaccination and urges Vincentians to do their own research on the importance of vaccination and COVID- 19, then make an informed decision. The NDP does not support mandatory vaccination.
The NDP is consistent in its approach to the management of COVID-19. Since last year, Dr. Friday has been offering meaningful advice to the government. Below is an article that was published in April, 2020, captioned:
Effective Leadership in Time of Crisis
Dr. Godwin Friday, President of the New Democratic Party and Leader of the Opposition, is providing decisive and inspiring leadership during this COVID-19 crisis in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He has articulated a clear vision and is consistent with the measures that he has put forward to be implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In his letter to Prime Minister, Dr. Gonsalves, on 21st March, Dr. Friday outlined a number of measures that the government should have adopted. These include:
Stricter social distancing controls and guidelines must be advocated publicly and enforced as best we can. All public gatherings should be discouraged and reduced to only what are necessary to maintain essential public services and promote public health.
Ensure that water is available to all people throughout SVG so that they can comply with the recommended personal hygiene practices
Urgently enable testing for the corona virus in SVG and begin widespread testing. Priority should be given to those who come into contact with persons who have tested positive for the corona virus or are suspected of being infected with it. Waiting for symptoms to show before testing is a risky approach that may create more harm.
Explain to the nation what to expect in a worst-case scenario of the spread of the corona virus in SVG and how government services (especially health services), businesses, transport services and individuals are expected to respond. The participation of seasoned medical, public health and other personnel with related expertise drawn from both civil society and the government service should be enlisted in this effort.
Further, Dr. Friday addressed the nation, while he advocated that the borders be closed for a short period; he made it clear that our nationals should be allowed to return home. He said, “Clearly, we are not out of the woods yet– not by a long shot.
This means we must do all we can to protect our people. This requires closing our borders for a while by suspending all arrivals at our airports and seaports, except essential travellers (including nationals) and commerce. We would then review the decision as conditions change. Taking this action now will give us the best chance of avoiding more cases of COVID-19 in SVG and of reducing the risk of an outbreak that may overburden our fragile healthcare system.”
It would appear that the government does not have a conclusive and effective plan to manage COVID-19. It has adopted a cavalier approach, and continues to send mixed messages to Vincentians. When we look at the measures, the other Caricom countries have implemented; we continue to ask, what is wrong in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
This approach is dangerous and can lure Vincentians into a false sense of security.