In the history of T&T Carnival, only war and disease have ever stopped the festival.
There were no pre-Lenten revelries during the years of World War II from 1942-1945. In 1972, the Carnival celebrations, which were due to be held on February 14 and 15, were postponed for three months because of a polio outbreak. The epidemic had claimed ten lives and 163 cases were reported in the space of just six weeks.
Those numbers might seem to be of little significance now compared to the daily statistics from the Ministry of Health on the community spread of COVID-19. However, the situation back then was considered serious enough for Health Minister Francis Prevatt to announce on January 31, 1972, that Carnival was being postponed “to allow a nationwide polio immunization programme to take its full effect.”
Postponing Carnival for just those few months cost the country about $2.35 million in tourist revenue.
Carnival 1972 eventually came off in May, just as the country was transitioning into the wet season. The sight of fully costumed masqueraders parading in the rain inspired Lord Kitchener’s Road March of the following year, Rain-O-Rama.
This time around, while disease is once again the reason for calling off Carnival, the stakes are much higher. As of yesterday, there were 2,039 active cases and 72 deaths and globally, the search continues for a vaccine and effective therapies for this novel coronavirus.
Therefore, it really was no surprise when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced yesterday that there will be no T&T Carnival in 2021. Crowds are the lifeblood of the festival, which makes it an ideal breeding ground for the accelerated spread of COVID-19.
Still, this will be a staggering loss for the country. Huge numbers of citizens employed in creative industries are now facing a grim and uncertain future, as the one event which generated a huge amount of their income is not likely to make a return before 2022, or even worse if a vaccine is not discovered.
As an industry, T&T Carnival brings in US$100 million in annual revenue. For at least six months in the year, there is significant economic activity directly connected to the festival in a range of sectors such as entertainment, hospitality and retail.
Although this country has not yet harnessed Carnival’s full potential, the festival has, particularly since the 1990s, developed into a viable and sustainable industry that supports talent, expertise, skills and knowledge unique to this part of the world
However, now that the pandemic has put the event on hold, there is an opportunity for the National Carnival Commission (NCC) and the interest groups to use the downtime to review, retool and come up with more creative ways to strengthen the industry. Their mandate to manage Carnival as an economic and cultural enterprise is more important now.
Looking ahead to the 2022 edition, there is more time to prepare to stage an event that will truly be the greatest show on earth.