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Best of times, worst of times
Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2020

By Raffique Shah
March 29, 2020

In time to come, when future generations write about us, about our behaviour during the great war against COVID-19, they may well resort to the Charles Dickens' classic, A Tale of Two Cities, which was set in a tumultuous period in European and world history, 1775-1792. Dickens opened his tale thus: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…in short…some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only…"

I thought of Dickens' famous opening paragraph as I surveyed the modern-day plague that has struck across the world, defying man's acquisition of vast knowledge and information, his mastery of technology and science, rendering civilisation as we know it near-impotent. Under siege from an invisible micro-organism that wreaks death and destruction, that shows no regard for wealth and power, man displays character-traits that range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Forced to face their mortality in a real yet surreal battlefield, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, the vast majority of them anyway, are willing to cast their fates to the seemingly capable hands of a hitherto obscure medical doctor, Dr Roshan Parasram, and his fellow-professionals who have impressed us in a way no one else has in recent times. This talented team that has been at the helm of our healthcare system for some time, but they bloomed as the Coronavirus crisis crept up on us.

It was their hour to shine—and they have done so with aplomb. They have put the politicians in the shade, although the latter have enjoyed star billing in the daily media briefings. In fact, the Coronavirus stage is so big, the politicians, who formulate policies and strategies based on guidelines from the medical team, have learned when to seize the spotlight, and when to stand in the shadow.

Thus far, in a matter of a few weeks, the political-professional combination that have led the charge to keep the virus at bay, have done a decent job. What we the citizenry have learnt in quick time is this virus moves like greased lightening when it strikes. One moment it has yet to make an entry, in another it is wreaking havoc in the country—as Italy, Spain and the USA have found out.

Fighting this enemy requires generals who can strategise in double-quick-time, field commanders who can execute the orders with similar speed, and logistical support that is adequate and does not dither in the midst of battle. The war machine must move with blitzkrieg-like tactics based on well thought out strategies that ensure that the civilians in the theatre are aware of what is required of them.

It is in this latter phase of the anti-Corona-virus war that the T&T machine has encountered weaknesses in its armour. True, people are now learning about the virus, how deadly it can be, how contagious it is. In many countries that have suffered severe casualties, elements in their populations, in instances tens of thousands of young people, endangered citizens by engaging in unacceptable behavior. In Italy, the USA and South Africa, television reports showed the young and stupid holding "Corona parties".

Fortunately for us, we did not have such displays. Instead, we were subjected to the irresponsible behaviour of mature adults and retirees, the latter being particularly susceptible to COVID-19 and most other influenza viruses. It defied explanation how a large group of elders could have ignored all warnings and advice about engaging in unnecessary travel, especially travel by air and cruise ships, and saunter off on a week-long cruise that when several international ports had banned such vessels from berthing.

I read one report that quoted a member of the group saying that the trip had been planned and paid for more than a year ago, and that they would lose money if they did not go. I wondered if it did not dawn on them that by going, they could have lost their lives—and that probability still stands. How naïve can we be? What is worse, they became the biggest carrier-group, adding some 50 cases to our infection list, and who knows how many more still to come.

Then there was the utter stupidity of talk show host Ian Alleyne. How does one rationalise his decision to fly off to Florida with his son, whom he professes to love to death (maybe literally), for two days, then return home highly contaminated with the deadly virus? He then proceeded to ignore the quarantine order, move around as if he were an un-cloistered nun, and in the process endanger the lives of scores of people, some of them his friends. With friends like him, who needs an enemy?

It's a pity there was at the time no law under which he could be arrested and charged for, say, endangering human lives.

In both instances of rank ignorance cited above, the misbehavior or insensitiveness of hard-back adults will end up costing taxpayers a tidy sum. Fortunately for us, such culprits are few and far between amongst the population. Most people adhere to the laws and regulations, which will see us past this crisis.

Then we can reflect—it was the best of times, the worst of times…

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