GRENADA:Government warns of lawlessness, tightens COVID-19 protocols

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BROOKLYN, NY – The Grenada government says it has taken note of a “growing culture of defiance and increasing tendency towards lawlessness,” as it warned against defying protocols put in place aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is the predominant challenge that confronts us daily, and we have been successful so far in this war on this disease. Let us keep fighting that common enemy instead of fighting against each other,” Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell said.

In a nationwide radio and television broadcast recently, Mitchell said that the island has not been successful in its fight against the pandemic “by undermining the one advantage we have, that of presenting a united effort.

“God forbid, if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in Grenada, the virus will not single out specific persons; every one of us will be a potential victim. Therefore, adopting a united front will improve our chances of continuing to be successful in this war. We are weary, but the battle is far from over, and therefore we must carry on together.”

Mitchell said that the COVID-19 protocols had been established for the benefit of the island, adding, “compliance is key; let us all cooperate.”

Grenada, to date, has recorded 169 COVID-19 cases and one death, and Mitchell warned that neighboring Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries were recording a high number of cases of the virus.

“My friends, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unleash havoc around the world, with the emerging strains, like Delta, proving to be far more contagious. Thousands are still dying daily; thousands more are hospitalized, many fighting for their lives, some even wishing they’d done something differently or sooner.”

Mitchell said that he had seen some “heart-wrenching moments” where persons who were refusing to be vaccinated while on their deathbed were pleading with family and friends not to subject themselves to the same fate.

“Thankfully, sisters and brothers, the availability of various COVID-19 vaccines has helped to save countless lives around the world. The scientists readily admit that the vaccines will not prevent you from contracting or spreading the disease. Still, if you do contract the virus, the vaccines will reduce the likelihood of you having severe symptoms, requiring hospitalization and even death.”

Mitchell said that while the science is not perfect, “but if you were to consider probabilities, your chances of surviving COVID-19 as a vaccinated person are much higher than if you’re not, particularly if you have underlying medical conditions”.

Mitchell urged Grenadians to take the vaccine insisting “it is, in fact, your best shot.”

Mitchell said that his 98-year-old mother had received her two doses, and thousands of other Grenadians have been fully vaccinated.

“I have repeatedly encouraged all who are eligible to get vaccinated to do so, if not for yourself, for those around you who are more vulnerable. My friends, I must admit that I am concerned about the level of uptake here in Grenada. It is quite difficult to understand the level of vaccine hesitancy we are seeing.”

The prime minister said that to date, only 21,371 people had received their first dose of AstraZeneca, and of that number, only 16,075 people are fully vaccinated.

“I cannot underscore enough the importance of achieving a much higher level of vaccination that will allow us to develop the level of herd immunity that will further reduce the potential risk we all face. I would not want to think that we are waiting for mass hospitalization and even multiple deaths before we act.”

Mitchell acknowledged that countries had been forced to take bold, sometimes unpopular decisions over the past year and a half, which, though necessary to protect people’s lives, have also caused increased anxiety.

“The far-reaching impact of the pandemic continues to necessitate these tough decisions, and Government must balance the dual objective of safeguarding the lives of people while at the same time protecting livelihoods.

“It is not practical to remain indefinitely insulated from the wider world economy, and we must jumpstart the process of economic recovery. However, in doing so, the health of the population remains a foremost concern.

“I’ve heard the view expressed that based on the low infection rate Grenada has experienced, we should close the borders and allow the people within to operate as normal. In a utopian world, that might be a plausible approach, but we do not live in a perfect world; COVID-19 has created a new normal, and we have to learn to adapt and live with it. Therefore, closing borders indefinitely is not practical, as tourism is a key economic driver.”

Mitchell said that this would become even more important as the island prepares to begin welcoming St. George’s University students back to the country for the start of the semester in mid-August.

He said having the students on the island and the ancillary activity created by their presence creates direct and indirect employment for hundreds of our people. Still, there is also a significant impact on the local economy.

“Sisters and brothers, I assure you that Government’s commitment to restarting the economy does not mean that we place any lesser value on the lives of the people; it simply means we are constantly striving to maintain the delicate balance of safeguarding lives and protecting livelihoods. And we do have the benefit of a COVID-19 vaccine to provide a measure of protection for our people.”

But Mitchell said that he had observed an alarming trend in recent weeks, one that can only be described as “a growing culture of defiance and increasing tendency towards lawlessness.

“I readily acknowledge that human beings are social creatures, and restrictions, especially over an extended period, are difficult to endure. I know our young people, in particular, want freedom to be. I was a boy once, a long time ago, yes, but I understand that desire to be out and about and to be carefree.”

But he reminded the nation that “times are not normal, we are in a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than four million people around the world, adding “our desire to live a normal life is natural, but we must remain conscious of the need to protect ourselves first and foremost, or the reality is, we may not even be around to live the normal lives we desire.”

He said that while it is doing its best to protect the population in a period of great uncertainty, the rigorous protocols and enforcement measures at the ports of entry serve as a powerful gatekeeper for detecting and isolating the virus.

“But sisters and brothers, we must be mindful that the situation can change in the blink of an eye.

It has happened elsewhere in the region and can quite easily happen right here in Pure Grenada. Is that what we want – to see infection rates rising rapidly and uncontrollably; to be separated from loved ones because being close puts them at risk of getting sick; to be placed on a ventilator because we can no longer breathe on our own; to see our medical facilities completely overwhelmed because there is insufficient equipment and personnel to treat those in need?

“That cannot be our vision for the future. If this situation materializes here, the health care team will be forced to choose who lives and who dies. It is not right or fair to place anyone in such a serious predicament.”

He said that the country is at a critical juncture and that going forward, there will be some changes to how “we operate to ensure greater cohesiveness and collaboration between the COVID-19 Committee and the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF), particularly as it relates to the permission granted to event organizers and promoters”.

Mitchell said that the COVID-19 committee was set up as an advisory body to the government and had joint responsibility for granting permission for carefully considered exceptions to the regulations.

He said that the system had worked well for a long time, but there seems to be a breakdown of authority.

“Government must therefore reassert its position that protecting the lives of people is its primary responsibility, while at the same time, facilitating some balance with social and economic activities,” he said, noting that he has met with senior police officials “to discuss how we can effectively bolster enforcement procedures and ensure greater compliance with the COVID-19 regulations.

“I have made it emphatically clear that there should be no semblance of preferential treatment or status afforded to anyone. From the south of the island to the country’s northern tip, and including the sister islands, the rules are to be applied equally across the board.

“Applications for activities that fall outside the scope of the regulations must be fairly considered, and if approved, these events must be properly monitored by health wardens and the police. Henceforth, full vaccination of all patrons and workers will require any activity that falls outside of the numbers permitted within the COVID19 regulations, and special permission has to be sought.

“Enforcement is a necessary part of the process, but there is need for greater responsibility, on the part of promoters and event organizers to ensure that they adhere to stipulated requirements and on the part of patrons, greater demonstration of personal responsibility for your own safety,” Mitchell said, adding “help us to help you.

“Sisters and brothers, the frightening reality is that any breaches, however minor, puts us all at risk,” he said.

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