By Dr John N Telesford, Acting Dean, School of Continuing Education, TAMCC
So far, so good. The government and people of Grenada, especially all essential workers, have done a fantastic job with curbing the spread of the Covid-19 and preventing death. Thank God for his mercies and blessings.
As a result, the Prime Minister (PM) announced on 10 May the further easing of the restrictions on economic activities and rightly so. Balancing the mitigation of Covid infection and spread and the economic activity needed to keep the country running is no easy task. But, the announcement by the PM to ease some of the economic pressure should not be taken as though we are out of the woods. Indeed, the PM was clear that strict social/physical distancing measures are still in place; the curfew from 7 pm to 5 am is still in effect and other places where mass gatherings occur such as schools and churches still remain closed, although this seems to be changing in the case of the latter. Moreover, passenger air travel is still not allowed, although it was hinted that limited travel will be considered as early June 2020.
The increase in the number of days for carrying out economic activities and number of sectors and businesses that can do so, including construction, must not be seen as a time to let down our guards and relax. The Covid-19 pandemic has buckled the World, with close to 5 million cases and over 300,000 deaths (20 May 2020). It is apparent that the Caribbean has been spared the brunt of Covid thus far, which was praised in a recent BBC World documentary. However, the head of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), rightly concluded that she will wait another month as economic activity begins to increase to see how the region continues to fare. I believe that an important measure that has resulted in minimising the number of cases and deaths in the Caribbean, including Grenada, is the closure of borders to passengers and tourists.
But tourism is the bedrock of Caribbean economies and it seems inevitable that our borders will be welcoming tourists sooner than later. Tourism, however, was like ‘one egg, in one basket’ for a long time. Therefore, as the egg-tourism cracked under the pressures of Covid, the basket, the economy also crashed. And as Covid continues to keep our borders closed there appears to be some anxiety in the industry and with our leaders to patch the basket and hopefully replace or patch the broken egg. The inevitable decision will result in the resumption of travel, for locals and tourists alike.
Border opening therefore, will lead to the need to heighten social distancing strategies, especially the wearing of face covering and maintenance of 6-foot distancing when in the presence of people. Blended learning for education, strict protocols for face-to-face learning and other gatherings, such as at churches, will have to be implemented. These social distancing measures are very new to us, but it appears that they will become what is referred to as the ‘new normal’.
In the short to medium term, this new normal will be very critical for the mitigation of Covid-19. As the global authorities warn, there is no clear-cut indication of when a vaccine will be developed and that if individuals who were infected can be re-infected. Unfortunately, therefore, as we ease the restrictions on travel, there is no other way, at least not now, to be sure that persons coming into the island are Covid-19 free. This leaves no choice but to have them tested and quarantined. In fact, testing, testing, testing and contact tracing will also be very important. And, the local population MUST become comfortable with the new normal.
So, the announcement by the PM has not miraculously ended the Covid-19. It is simply an indication that Grenada is inching towards increased economic activities. But as we increase these activities we must also increase our vigilance by adhering to the social distancing measures and wearing of face covering. Unfortunately, as I look around, persons are still standing on the backs of others when in some lines, masks can be seen but are worn on the chin or forehead when in the company of people and construction workers still travel on open-back vehicles with no face covering and very close to each other. I am the first to admit that this new normal will not be easily adopted, but we will eventually have to learn to live with it for some time in the future. Additionally, we must also continually practice basic hygiene such as regular handwashing with soap and water and using hand sanitiser where hand washing is not available.
The prediction of a second wave of Covid-19 later in the year will coincide with the phased opening up of our borders. This can worsen our situation with increased economic activities and numbers of persons coming into the country. It is at this point that the risk of infection may heighten for the Caribbean region and Grenada. This is when the ‘new normal’ will have to be at its best and as a country, everyone will have to take the responsibility to ensure that Covid-19 infection and spread are mitigated. I encourage us to get accustomed to the new normal sooner than later, as we may have to live with Covid-19 for a long time!