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Right time to intensify pressure


THE Government's financial and social support packages for countering the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on the economy, businesses and individuals are necessary and comforting and demonstrate the power of a multi-partite response to a national emergency.

Social security measures announced by Minister Camille Robinson-Regis should go a long way but there are vulnerable families who are not even in the ministry's database and have neither food cards nor other grants. The ministry must go beyond its database and use local government bodies and community-based NGOs to find everyone who needs help.

That being said, somewhere between Monday and yesterday, the Government seems to have lost the narrative of how coronavirus moved from an outbreak in China to a global pandemic that has turned the world upside down.

In contrast to Monday's media conference which caught the public's attention and put the population on high alert, yesterday's post-Cabinet event led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley seemed to have lost some steam. We hope we are wrong but if this moment turns out to be just the calm before the storm, it would be because the Government relinquished the initiative just when it most needed to intensify the pressure.

All the evidence from countries that have fallen victim to COVID-19 indicates that the most effective protection is the adoption of extreme measures of isolation early enough.

Yesterday, the price of political hesitation was evident in the US and the UK where a sudden and steep rise in deaths sent the authorities rushing to embrace emergency measures resisted just hours before.

Here in T&T, a divergence seems to be emerging in Government policy. On one hand is the extreme but necessary shutdown of airports and ports; on the other is continuation of the failed policy of moral suasion to get people to stay home except for essential activity. The choice is not, as Dr Rowley framed it, between everybody being out or nobody being out, but between essential and non-essential activity. The public needs clear and unambiguous directives backed by the force of law if the sacrifices being made by those who have given up their freedom of movement is to yield benefits.

In this critical period, Minister Imbert's financial measures effectively place the private sector in the driver's seat, with the responsibility to help guide the nation through what could be bleak days ahead. The minister's admission that in terms of foreign exchange use, the Government will expect business to abide by an 'honour system', sounded like moral suasion in a situation where tight regulation is required to ensure that the funds being released go towards defined national objectives. With the situation compounded by the further collapse of oil towards US$20 and natural gas at around $1.60, the economy is now virtually in no-man's land.

It must be cold comfort for Minister Imbert that he has plenty of company in the power centres of the world.

On the issue of identifying countries and communities, COVID-19 requires a break from the old paradigm of patient confidentiality. This virus feeds on secrecy but can be eliminated by information. Many public figures around the world are voluntarily disclosing their positive tests to quickly alert people who may have been in contact with them. Let's all get on board with more transparency, not less.

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