ON Friday, West Indians from Guyana to Jamaica watched video after video of unruly crowds that they would themselves have thought were shot at home.
West Indians expect order, not chaos, from Barbados. The great West Indies cricket teams and the most stable economy and society in the region were built on Bajan reliability.
Until last Thursday, the Barbados government approached the covid19 crisis in the usual way: solidly, carefully and with great thought and discipline. As of Saturday, the island had 51 cases.
Restrictions on commercial activity and personal movement were tightened gradually, via announcements to the nation made live on camera by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, and, when she underwent a planned surgery, acting Prime Minister Santia Bradshaw.
Supermarkets were not shut down, but allowed to open from 9 am-2 pm, gas stations from 7 am-5 pm, bakeries from 6 am-4 pm and so on.
On Thursday, however – and after supermarkets were already closed – Bradshaw announced that when supermarkets closed on Friday, they would not reopen until April 15.
Accordingly, all of Barbados left home the moment the overnight curfew was lifted at 6 am on Friday, determined to secure two weeks’ worth of supplies for themselves.
The lines that stretched around the perimeters of the big-box retailers and snaked along Bridgetown’s pavements were captured on video.
Every establishment in Barbados selling any kind of food, from fruit and veg to the Trinidadian import, doubles, was plagued by long lines. In the countryside of St Philip, Barbados’ most thinly populated parish, lines outside village shops stretched out from their doors like kites’ tails.
At their ends, where people still had reserves of patience and could see the two-metre social distance from others being respected ahead of them, people stood quietly. The closer the lines got to supermarket entrances, the smaller the space between individuals shrank and the louder the mumbling and grumbling grew. At every entrance, the crowds were thick, sweaty, closely packed and, often, angry.
At Sky Mall in Barbados, four Royal Barbados Constabulary policemen controlled the entrance to the Massy Store; there were more than 100 times that number waiting to get in. At Cost-U-Less in St Thomas, Barbados’ second-largest supermarket, a policeman, who arrived on a motorcycle and went in through the exit, shouldered his way through the thick crowd, presumably intent on a purchase of his own.
On Thursday evening, a business executive from a leading group of companies said, “Giving the whole country one day to shop for two weeks is madness. People who would have stayed home will now go to PriceSmart.
“And all you need is three or four r---holes cutting into the two-metre spaces everybody else was leaving in the line, and people will get frustrated. I don’t blame them. It’s human nature.
“They should have announced, on Thursday night, that the groceries would not open again until 15 April. What they were trying to prevent, they’ve encouraged. Plenty more people will get it now.”