Covid19 crisis

Prime Minister Dr Rowley. PHOTO BY VIDYA THURAB - Vidya Thurab
Prime Minister Dr Rowley. PHOTO BY VIDYA THURAB - Vidya Thurab

TODAY is World Health Day, but that fact is eclipsed by the inauspicious start of our local vaccination effort and the news that the Prime Minister had tested positive for covid19 mere hours before he was due to receive a jab.

We join with the national community in wishing Dr Rowley and anyone who may have come into contact with him a speedy recovery, for their sake and for the sake of the nation.

The health of the country’s leadership is a matter of concern for all nationals. Transparency is essential during this very delicate moment.

Uncertainties surrounding Dr Rowley’s prognosis now throw into disarray the highest levels of governance. We have clear laws in place that govern what is supposed to happen in the event a prime minister is unable to perform his or her functions. Section 78 of the Constitution empowers President Paula-Mae Weekes to appoint as acting prime minister should Dr Rowley’s condition merit such a move.

But what the constitution never foresaw was a global pandemic of a highly infectious disease and a Cabinet in which even senior members have been lax in setting the right tone when it comes to adherence to the strictest of protocols.

At this stage, it is anyone’s guess whether other members of Cabinet will fall ill too and who.

The timing of all of this could not be worse.

The Ministry of Health on Tuesday began “rollout” of its vaccination programme, but despite all the fanfare (Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh on Monday declared his team “primed and raring to go”), the process was beset with confusion.

The long lines at health facilities (which could themselves be potential super-spreader events) due to inept or misleading pronouncements from the highest levels, the apparent gaps in communication when it comes to high-risk clinic patients, the breakdown of hotlines meant to facilitate appointments, the lack of understanding about the various nationwide vaccination centres – all of it suggests members of the public do not genuinely have any real access to these jabs.

Indeed, given the relatively low number in stock (the 33,600 Covax doses cannot cover even all essential workers or high-risk patients) it is difficult not to see Tuesday’s much-heralded start of the vaccination programme as little more than a pappyshow.

It is ironic that the theme of today’s World Health Day is ensuring “all people are able to access quality health services when and where they need them” when it is clear that in the face of the single most pressing health issue facing this country, ordinary citizens are not yet entitled to access a vaccine.

Worse, no one, not even the PM, even if he were well enough, can say for sure when such access will be forthcoming.

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