Don't blame the virus, blame lockdowns

A view up a busy-looking Frederick St, Port of Spain as people go about their business under covid19 restrictions and guidelines. PHOTOS BY SUREASH CHOLAI -
A view up a busy-looking Frederick St, Port of Spain as people go about their business under covid19 restrictions and guidelines. PHOTOS BY SUREASH CHOLAI -

All over the western world, governments have chosen lockdowns to impede the spread of the covid19 virus. Medical experts by the droves have argued singly, as our own beloved Dr Bratt has, and in groups such as associations of doctors jointly from Oxford University in the UK and Harvard University in the US that this is not only unnecessary, provided other preventative measures are observed, and are actually psychologically harmful and have led to what is now termed the parallel mental health epidemic of proportions hitherto unknown.

At the same time, leading economists worldwide have pointed to the financial and economic (not the same thing) burdens this decision to lockdown has placed on nations. Sweden, they point out, has managed very well without it. People did get the virus. Most recovered. Many of the very elderly, about six per cent, mainly those in “care homes" for the elderly, died.

In Monday’s budget speech, Minister Imbert was clear and eloquent about the enormous losses suffered by this country. Not as a result of the epidemic itself, more people died from murder than from the virus, but of what the lockdown has led to, decimated whole industries, with the greatest suffering, as is usual, falling on the lowest on the economic scale. The marginal, the informal, the self-employed and the small and medium-sized enterprises.

As I drive around the country I see, as everyone does, businessplaces, small and medium-sized with CLOSED signs on their doors. Eating places and friendly bars, once considered sure-fire investment for people who had lost their jobs through redundancy or retirement, as we know people must eat, have simply not survived. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit, which includes the willingness to take a risk with their savings, losing all. Those who invested on the other sure-fire area, real estate – even in school we are taught that property always increases in value once you maintain it – have also lost, as those enterprising souls that rented from them have had to close.

It is a chain reaction. Once business enterprises are locked down they cannot buy those agricultural goods or employ the services – transport, cleaning, insurance, electricity, musicians, entertainers, customer service representatives – they needed in order to keep their businesses open so they stopped renting. It is a whole chain of loss and non-productivity and, as the medical scientists are now shouting to us from the rooftops, depression, anxiety and aggressive mental illness are rising. And as we all know, whenever mental illness and stress take over it leads to an unavoidable physical illness.

An employee's temperature is checked on entry to the workplace. -

While on the pre-budget programmes, OWTU’s Ossie Warwick repeated several times over that employers should not use the covid19 epidemic as an excuse to terminate the employment of workers in their establishments. I could not agree with him more. But employment is part of the chain. When there is no more business there is no more income and there is no more money to pay for goods and services and no more money to keep workers in jobs. It is not just wages and salaries. It is NIS contributions, taxes, green fund levy, compulsory workmen's compensation insurance, coverage for vacation and illness, sanitation costs, telephone and electricity and internet charges as even the smallest business has computer connections now. When a business, however small, has to shut down all of these enterprises lose their source of income, and the people who are employed to provide them with goods and services close down as well. Taxes cease to be paid. Government revenues fall.

What is fascinating is that every closure required by government, we are told, is based on the advice of science. No government identifies the economists that are behind the science of lockdowns, so they do not have to take the blame for their own decisions. It is always science that mandated it. Even after the most prominent medical expert bodies and the most prominent economists in the world advise precautions, not lockdowns, governments say otherwise.

Governments in developing countries just agree with any analysis made by either the WHO publicists or the foreign press. We even had to listen to a government spokesperson on TV here echo the cold country warnings about “flu season” coming in the next few weeks, when every Trini knows that flu season here follows upon Carnival and Christmas, not falling autumn leaves in Hyde Park. What was it Naipaul called us? Mimic men?

Ossie Warwick is right. Do not blame redundancies on the covid19 flu. People will get ill with the virus and 98 per cent of them will recover from it, except, as actual statistics show, those over 70 with existing medical problems and the weakened immune systems of the elderly, none of whom are workers.

When someone under 60 out of our population of 1.5 million dies of the covid19 virus it makes headlines because it is so rare. Far more people in the under-55s die of gunshot wounds and automobile accidents. Don’t blame the virus as Ossie says, blame the lockdowns.

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"Don’t blame the virus, blame lockdowns"

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