Most people must have breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday evening at the announcement by the PM about the easing of restrictions as from May 1st, that is, Saturday next. The main ones perhaps relate to the WAP and alphabetical order at the supermarkets not being applicable any more, and also the opening of bazaars. Certain other activities have also been allowed but with limits on the number of participants, e.g. religious ceremonies, funerals and marriages.
Obviously, the situation will continue to be monitored daily and the data made public. Several times in this paper the capital importance of proper communication has been underlined, including by experts in Public Health. This remains a fundamental, and will have to be maintained. There will have to be complete transparency about the facts and figures regarding the ongoing situation (the number of cases and their distribution around the island, etc.), the vaccination status including supply, and other relevant information as itarises.
In communication the medium is the message, and between Covid-free and Covid-safe there is not only a nuance but a notable difference. It is true that towards the end of last year, especially as the festive season was approaching, people were looking forward to releasing the tension that the almost year-long pandemic had created, and that is quite natural. But it was for the authorities to keep a close eye on the situation in light of the global evolving context so as to pick up the warning signs that all was not well as yet. Not only was this not done, but there was also the constant touting of the island being Covid-safe, creating thereby a false sense of security.
There may also have been a similar relaxation in terms of continuation of the programme of testing and tracing in the community – despite our being ‘Covid-safe’-, and here again it must be taken into account that the health personnel were also exhausted and stressed by the week-on-week going around the island and doing their field work.
Not to mention what is already only too well-known: the quasi-abandonment of the sanitary precautions by a majority of the population, making all of us, therefore, collectively responsible when Covid struck anew at the beginning of the year.
As we approach the coming easing out of restrictions, therefore, it is every citizen’s responsibility to keep these facts in mind as lessons that must serve as a guide for future behaviour – which is going to be a long term affair.
Similarly, for the authorities: about careful wording of messages to save from embarassmentand unnecessary criticism in future to start with. They mustprovide accurate and timely information about the changing situation.Further, there should not be a let-up in community tracing, but giving enough time for teams to recuperate because it is a tiresome exercise.
On the other hand, in anticipation of any future surge, a thorough review of all the aspectsof the quarantine arrangements must be made, because there have been so many adverse accounts in this regard. And last but not least – in fact perhaps more important still, is to revisit disposal of the dead so that there is respect for the dignity of the person and the emotional needs of the family while complying with the sanitary regulations that are mandated.
There is much advance thinking and planning to be done so that we are better prepared for the next hit – but it is not as if we are starting from scratch. Let the professional experience as well as the experience of those who have been directly impacted socially and economically by the disease be our guide.
* Published in print edition on 27 April 2021
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