by Dr Wendy C Grenade
The battlefield needs to be re-set if Grenada is to win the war against Covid-19.
Relative to the rest of the Caribbean, Grenada had extremely low incidences of the virus and no Covid-19 related deaths were recorded. However, reports from the Ministry of Health as at 18 December 2020 indicated that there has been a recent spike in confirmed cases from 41 to 96. This must concern every Grenadian citizen at home and abroad. In this article, I seek to do two things. First, to locate Covid-19 within a larger conversation about nontraditional security threats and the implications for small countries like Grenada. I will then offer some suggestions for the way forward.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a multidimensional security threat that exacerbates development challenges for small countries like Grenada. Traditionally, security was defined narrowly as military threats against national territory. As new threats emerge, the notion of security now includes non-military and crossborder issues that pose threats not only to states but to human security. The UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report focused on seven elements of human security: economic; food; health; environmental; personal; community, and political security. The Covid-19 pandemic has unmasked the tension between health security and economic security. This is often referred to as the conflict between lives and livelihoods. Given the severity of the pandemic, it is generally argued that there is no textbook which explains how to best manage risks and balance tradeoffs between lives and livelihoods. I am of the view that lives must always be safeguarded even as every effort must be made to protect livelihoods.
The spread of Covid-19 is facilitated by cross-border movements. Therefore, effective border control is a necessary weapon in the fight against the deadly virus. Across the world, governments are engaging in border closures and re-openings in keeping with changing circumstances. On Saturday, 19 December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed fresh restrictions on parts of the UK to control the spread of what seems to be a new Covid-19 strain which has ‘significant, substantial increase in transmissibility’ according to England’s Chief Medical Officer. Prime Minister Johnson indicated that ‘When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence.’ In Grenada’s case, if the current spike gets out of control, it may be too late for an effective counter-attack. As difficult as the reality is, when the external environment poses a dire threat to the domestic space, border control must be a strategic policy response to safeguard lives and protect livelihoods. Here national security becomes the catalyst to balance health and economic security.
Effective public policy is paramount. Particularly if borders are open there is no room for error. Protocols that emanate from legislation and policy must be clear and precise, yet agile enough to tactically respond to shifting dynamics. In my view, up to this point, Grenadian officials were managing the pandemic with some measure of relative efficiency. However, this current spike suggests there was a grave miscalculation on the part of the Government. The ‘corridor’ arrangement needs to be revised. This refers to a situation where, unlike other persons in the general population, guests are not required to take a Covid-19 test four days after their arrival at all-inclusive hotels. This was a grave policy blunder as hotel workers then became the link between visitors and local communities. The war against Covid-19 is dependent on sound policies, effectively formulated, implemented, and monitored. An important aspect of the policymaking process is its legitimacy. Citizens must have confidence that protocols promote their safety and wellbeing and are equitably enforced. This in turn would engender an atmosphere of trust and more readily guarantee compliance.
Uniformity in the implementation of protocols is also an antidote in the fight against Covid-19. Protocols must be clear and, in as far as is possible, uniformly applied. The greater the deviation from the norms, the higher the probability for threat multipliers and unmanaged risks. Out of an abundance of caution, every Grenadian and visitor should continue to enter Grenada with a negative PCR test, and everyone should be tested after 4 days – citizens and tourists alike. This loophole needs to be closed to avoid an escalation in cases. There are other arrangements that must also be revisited. For example, based on my research, and subject to verification by the Ministry of Health, it appears that some guests at hotels in the South can have access to Grand Anse beach while they are quarantined. I wish to suggest that if this is indeed a policy it should be revised. Until the situation is contained, quarantine should mean isolation. No guest should be allowed to have access to our beaches while on quarantine. The risks are too high. The enemy is too invisible and the arsenal in Grenada’s health system is no match for the deadly virus.
This takes me to the question of small size and community spread. As the experience from Hurricane Ivan has taught us, small size is an advantage in managing natural disasters and other crises. In the case of Covid-19, small population size facilitates contact tracing. However, small countries consist of generally well-connected communities, with close-knitted families and informal economies that benefit from people-to-people connectivity as a way of life.
While social interactions are necessary to enhance psychological and mental well-being, the current cluster demonstrates that small, community-oriented societies can easily become epicentres for community spread of Covid-19. In a technical sense, community spread is generally referred to as a situation when someone gets the virus without any known contact with a sick person. In a recent address by the Minister of Health, he indicated that there is no community spread in Grenada based on the technical definition. I am of the view that while this definition may be applied in the context of larger countries, for small societies, the interpretation of community spread must be more nuanced. Hence, while technically, Grenada may not have ‘community spread’ per se, there may be spread within communities. A re-setting of the protocols should consider the relationship between small population size and the potential for community spread.
I call on the Government of Grenada to re-set the contours of the battlefield going forward. Take responsibility for the policy lapses, learn from the mistakes, and move forward with an abundance of caution. This may mean new arrangements with corporate interests. Even as Grenada is economically dependent, our sovereignty is not for sale. Our dignity is priceless and our collective honour must never be sacrificed on the altar of economic expediency. The Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for the Government of Grenada to engage in serious dialogue with the Grenadian people on the type of economy that can foster human security and economic viability within the context of sustainability. This is an opportunity for young people to imagine possibilities beyond our (over)dependence on the fragile tourism industry. In the re-setting of the ‘post-Covid-19’ Grenadian economy, we must rethink how we do tourism, as it is a double-edged sword. It is well established that tourism’s total economic contribution is significant through employment generation and as a foreign currency earner. Farmers, craftsmen and women, vendors, taxi drivers, water taxi operators, tour guides, hotel employees and other workers in the diverse sub-sectors of the tourism industry all benefit directly and indirectly from tourism. Yet, despite its importance, at times, tourism itself becomes an unwelcome guest.
Skillful leadership is necessary to manage the tourism industry in such a way that the country maximises the gains and mitigates the collateral damage that is intrinsic to international travel and tourism. The PRG promoted the idea of ‘New Tourism.’ This model can be reviewed and refashioned for a new time. I propose a multi-sectoral, inter-generational dialogue to reimagine a new sustainable tourism that protects lives; promotes safe work with dignity; ensures the preservation of patrimony and sovereignty and guarantees the protection of the environment.
Importantly, the fight against Covid-19 requires activist citizens who are participants in their governance. Grenadians should hold Government officials accountable for flawed policies, which can jeopardise safety. Citizens must insist on honesty and openness from policymakers. Where trust is compromised, they should boldly say so and demand answers. This fight is larger than the cut and thrust of partisan politics. There is need for constructive criticism and healthy dialogue. Every one of us has a weapon we can use against this invisible enemy. I encourage Grenadians to consistently follow the protocols. Experts have said that wearing masks can save lives. I encourage us all to continue to be physically distanced. This does not mean we must be socially disconnected. This year has created psychological and mental health challenges for many. Extended families can find creative ways to enjoy the holidays virtually. The weeks ahead may be challenging at best. Success requires collective responsibility and collective resilience.
Finally, I take the opportunity to commend all the frontline workers for their sacrifices and commitment during what was a difficult year. I extend my best wishes to those persons who are affected in some way by this spike in cases. As 2021 approaches, the only certainty seems to be uncertainty, although there is now a ray of hope with the possibility of vaccines. The good news is history has taught us that the best of the Grenadian spirit shines through the greatest adversity. As we celebrate the holiday season, let us allow hope to triumph over doubt, courage over fear and peace over despair.
I remain cautiously optimistic.
Dr Wendy C Grenade is a Grenadian and a Senior Lecture in Political Science, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.
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