Tobago stakeholders say the Government’s decision to go ahead with Carnival safe zone events is discriminatory and prevents unvaccinated artistes from earning money.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts gave the green light for strictly concert-styled events during the Carnival season. These include soca and calypso concerts, calypso tents, extempo and chutney competitions, steelband concerts, Carnival King and Queen shows and Carnival theatre. But the ministry said no fetes or parties will be allowed because of the risk of increased spread of the covid19 virus.
The TT Promoters Association has reacted vociferously to the decision, insisting the move will have no impact on the events sector, which it said, has been closed since the onset of the pandemic, two years ago. The association regarded the decision as an “important intervention for the state public relations machine.”
Sherwin Cunningham, manager of the D’ Masters Kaiso tent, told Sunday Newsday he does not support mandatory vaccination and was opposed to the safe zone initiative.
“I think as long as you allow people to practice their social distancing that we could have competitions or even this Carnival without any major problem because we have to learn to live with this thing because it is here to stay,” he said.
Cunningham believes safe zones do not work.
“We have proof of that, because the West Indies cricket team was once in a bubble and people still got sick. So safe zones don’t work.”
Cunningham, who has been involved in calypso since 2000, believes that as long as people are encouraged to practise safety measures, there would not be any need for safe zones “because what you are doing is actually leaving out artistes who are not willing to go take this jab.
“So, now they are being left on the breadline because you pushing this safe zone thing and I think that is wrong.”
He said while the Government’s intention is good, “It could be done outside of the safe zone.
“The idea of trying to create some kind of activity for the artistes and patrons alike, I am 100 per cent for that because it (covid19) is something we have to learn to live with. The virus has been around since 2019 and it is time we come to terms with it.”
Veteran bandleader Jemma Bedlow said Tobago’s masmen have agreed to not take part in Carnival this year, owing, in part, to the short time in which they have to prepare.
She said members of several interest groups have met with Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris to discuss concerns within the fraternity.
“We are not taking part in the Carnival in February. But we are looking to push it back to have the Carnival in October due to the safe zone. The time is too short,” Bedlow said, adding bands will not be able to “put their kings and queens in order.”
Saying funding is also a challenge for the mas fraternity, Bedlow believes the Government could have held the Carnival later this year to facilitate wider participation.
“If they are talking about safe zones, they could have pushed it back to ensure that most people are vaccinated because what are they putting in place for safe zones? When you go in a safe zone you might have to show your card but are we sure if it is legitimate cards?”
Bedlow said she knows of instances in which people have bought vaccination cards without taking the jab.
“The initiative, in my view, should not be next month. Put it at a later date and let us work to ensure that if we are having the safe zone, it is really a safe zone.”
Bedlow also supports Cunningham’s view that Carnival safe zones will prevent unvaccinated artistes from participating and earning some much needed income.
“If we are speaking about safe zones, we are speaking about vaccinations and some of the bandleaders and their members are not vaccinated. That is the problem,” she said.
Bedlow also believes that hosting Carnival events at this time is too risky, given the rise in covid19 infections and deaths. She said interest groups are expected to meet with Burris again on Monday.
Singer and actress Leslie-Ann Inniss does not support safe zones for calypso.
“It will be a situation where we would have to vaccinate to participate. What about the calypsonian, who in their own personal interest, is not ready to vaccinate. You are forcing them to vaccinate because they might need a little money to do something. I totally am against it.”
Ellis, who has been performing for the past 26 years, said the Government could just allow calypsonoians to sing and showcase their artform “without this safe zone thing.”
Noting the rising numbers of covid19 infections and deaths, Ellis said organisers and patrons must be extremely careful if, in fact, the safe zone initiative does come off.
Attempts to reach Burris and Tobago Festivals Commission CEO John Arnold on Saturday were unsuccessful as messages sent to them went unanswered.
In a release on Friday, the ministry said it recognised "the hardship" experienced by the events and culture sectors.
"And in that regard, we continue to work together, as we always have, to bring relief, and to consider and implement proposals for an early, but safe and cautious restart to the entire entertainment industry."
The ministry also said it understood that its Taste of Carnival 2022 proposal cannot be, and was not a replacement to the opportunities and events that a full Carnival provides. It again advised everyone to get vaccinated and encouraged event stakeholders to continue support its call.