From the very blurry start, it was always evident that apart from preventing and/or managing its propagation, a principal objective of our national COVID-19 strategy has been to protect our most vulnerable from suffering and possible death.
The many (for whom the pandemic is likely to spare its worst effects) are required to offer up sacrifices in exchange for the well-being of the few who have proven to be disproportionately at risk.
In the course of human history, this is not an entirely new proposition. Our societies now generally prefer progressive systems of taxation. There are concessions for the aged and otherwise disadvantaged. We exercise special care for children. And social medicine has long existed as a superior alternative to any system that equates an ability to pay with the right to live.
Under pandemic conditions, vulnerability does not only include medical status but also reflects equity dynamics.
Sadly, in T&T, the pandemic has exposed an unwillingness by many to sacrifice rights, recreation and revenue for responsibility to others. This obtains in part because of a sense of privilege and entitlement.
Such a scenario represents the absence of what health communicators describe as “health equity” —situations in which “privilege” applies unevenly in the accessing of resources.
Transportation privilege comprises masks in the maxis but not in Audis or high-end cars that will never be used as PH cars or have anyone else but family as passengers.
Employment privilege that scoffs at the plight of people awaiting grants and relief packages. Privilege that recognises the spranger before the human.
Technology privilege that does not recognise a digital divide that makes possession of device without connectivity near worthless. Age privilege because some need to party.
Financial privilege to skip the public health queue and to access private resources.
It is of course not an easy situation. Medically, as has been the situation everywhere else, we have been confronted by the unknown. Our officials have thus resorted to slavish, conservative adherence to evolving regional and international protocols as preferred official option.
It is an approach that presents the explicit risk of erring on the side of caution while placing us all in the same basket. Minimising risk while demanding a high level of personal and communal responsibility with accompanying egalitarian benefits.
An eschewing of privilege and a recalibrating of social norms to assure greater social justice. Yes, we are on the same ocean. But onboard different vessels. Not only as countries, but as private individuals and communities.
It is also difficult to legislate a duty to care. Almost as intractable as lawmaking to sustain love. “A state of emergency,” the prime minister exclaimed at the outset, “won’t make you wash your hands.” Yet, we needed punitive fines to get people to wear face masks.
It is of course perfectly understandable and necessary that informed, critical scrutiny of discrete measures would flow. Nobody ever suggested uncontested measures.
Reporters have thus asked sometimes awkwardly framed but valid questions based on growing public concern and, at times, contrasting regional and international interventions.
On this very page, Dr David Bratt has been lending an important, critical eye. Elsewhere, people who understand these things have contributed other knowledgeable views.
Sadly, self-serving, ill-advised political commentary based in part on COVID-denial, conspiracy theory, privilege and medical myth has too frequently found space in the social discourse.
Among the more odious phenomena has been the slandering of high-quality public professionals who have consistently presented sound information and diligent guidance.
There was also much in the recent election campaign to generate loathsome revulsion. The second-guessing of expert advice. The open defiance of measures to save lives. Unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the data indicting scores of national and regional public servants.
Then to hear about a supposed lack of “measures.” What “measures,” if not the “measures” to achieve the simple tasks of hand hygiene, physical distancing and the proper wearing of face masks?
The fact is, nobody, anywhere, has been getting everything right. There have been slip-ups here and everywhere. But there has also been universal agreement on the need to protect the more vulnerable.
Health equity to achieve such an end requires much more than we have so far exhibited in our space. Privilege has instead reigned. What a shame.