Unity needed to combat covid19 – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


The very thing urgently needed to help battle this covid19 onslaught remains elusive. That is, unity of all sectors of society, alongside vaccines and protocols.

The unity should be in a government-opposition driven national task force comprising political parties, business, civil society groups, labour, professional groups and the university – something similar to the Chamber of Commerce’s recent proposal.

The population should now be in common-purpose thinking. But first, PM Dr Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar must get together. (Last election PNM got 322,250 votes, UNC 309,188.) Party members from each side should push upwards for such co-operation. Democratise in the nation’s interest. Didn’t Dr Rowley say, “We are all in this together?” Let’s set the example at the very top.

It is depressing to get up one morning and be shocked with headlines such as “16 deaths in 4 days,” or “New covid19 cases 882” and growing or “System 10 days from collapse.”

Then an already frightened population hears “Eight killed in weekend of bloodshed,” or “Decapitated body found,” or “Man loses his wife in deadly bandit attack,” with escalating numbers of deadly home invasions.

Food shortages and hoarding here and abroad have begun.

Last year in his budget speech, Finance Minister Colm Imbert declared: “This covid19 has made us understand how important agriculture is.”

So? We face a national catastrophe.

Dr Rowley rightly warns the population to behave. But that and lockdown are not enough. There is deepened fear. Leadership inspiration is needed to calm the fear. There is of course a lot to complain about: vaccines promised not here yet, over 120 illegal immigrants, confusion at vaccination centres, etc.

However, as common enemies, covid19 and a withering economy require a common front.

It’s not easy, but both parties should now take the high ground and jointly provide a lighthouse of inspiration for the population. This will help provide moral legitimacy to managing covid19.

The government and opposition should lead off with an anti-covid19 unity meeting, followed up with the kind of national mobilisation effort mentioned above. If this is impossible then prepare to fight with 50 per cent less mobilisation and continued political bickering as the virus takes us to the precipice. The government and police appeal for citizens’ help will falter.

This covid19 disaster will get worse if the politics and crisis-management conditions remain the same. There is, of course, political pride, but you cannot expect the population to behave when the country’s leadership doesn’t. In the face of such an unprecedented disaster, our elected politicians should not remain “Westminster prisoners,” unable to override the adversarial barrier. The virus is marching on, relentlessly and mercilessly, mutating and spreading, especially in countries with hard-pressed finances.

India’s PM Narendra Modi is being held to account for allowing elections to be held at this time of the epidemic. US President Joe Biden is being scolded for his border entry of illegal immigrants. UK PM Boris Johnson is being pilloried for declaring, “Let the bodies pile up.”

The point is that adversarial party politics is just that. But we here can do better if we try.

It is selfishness that has led vaccine manufacturers to control the distribution so inequitably. Like Bill Gates, they refuse to release the patent. Their excuse is that it will “not be safe to do so.” Imagine that!

When the record about this deadly pandemic and economic depression is written in future, hardline capitalism will have to share blame. If we live so long.

Hurt over such profit-driven selfishness, I posted this online: “How unfair. Given the great danger and urgent need by all, I really thought all vaccine manufacturers would have gotten together for speed, accuracy and effectiveness under one WHO system and so distribute the vaccine equitably, etc. it was a test of humanity for humanity. They failed, leaving an ugly scramble and the poor far behind, is money still the root of it all?”

Look, I may not have all the answers. But what my common sense now tells me is that the PM and Opposition Leader should get together and devise a common rescue platform. Several times Dr Rowley asked citizens to put country before party. Now is the time for him and Ms Persad-Bissessar to do so.