THE Prime Minister’s media conference on Monday built a strong case for the imposition of the harshest of measures to control the covid19 outbreak.
But in the end, Dr Rowley spared the nation and left it for citizens to read between the lines: if you do not stay home in the coming days, the nuclear option of a state of emergency could soon come.
“For heaven’s sake, we are appealing to you,” the PM said. “For the days ahead, if you don’t have to come out as an essential worker, stay at home. Stay away from people.”
Dr Rowley announced the discontinuation of all non-essential retail, the end of street food-selling and curbing of opening hours for everything else.
But a state of emergency could well be justified on the basis of the picture presented by his medical advisers.
According to Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasam, new cases increased by a whopping 241 on Sunday.
Worse, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds said cases could double in the coming weeks at the current rate; more young people are dying; 35 per cent of people being tested are positive; and the parallel healthcare system’s capacity for covid19 patients could be overwhelmed later this month.
Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards, acting principal medical officer in charge of institutions, said 14 per cent of patients reporting to hospital are being admitted. That number is rising faster than the number of those getting better and being sent home. And it’s not just about how many beds are available, but medical staff to care for the patients who fill them.
The officials spoke variously of a potential “collapse,” a “tipping point,” “a cause for concern,” “alarm,” and a “significant increase.”
The prime minister’s language was equally heightened. He spoke of a coming “calamity” not only for covid19 patients, but for all patients, if the current curve is not flattened.
While the situation is clearly dire, the measures announced yesterday were relatively restrained. But only for the moment.
Dr Rowley pointedly noted more measures could be coming on Wednesday and Thursday, the Government wanting to stagger its announcements to avoid repeat of the super-spreader scenes of last-minute panic last week.
Though the overall moral message is clear, under the current measures, ambiguities remain.
There needs to be more work on counselling patients about self-isolation practices (there were 2,020 people in home quarantine on Monday.) There is a view that lapses within households have facilitated the current spike.
The somewhat disjointed and confusing messages being sent by government officials on the reach of police powers with regard to private versus public spaces have also damaged the deterrent impact of the regulations. The latter debate might only end if special powers are granted to the State under a state of emergency.