COVID-19 cases are spiking again, not just here in Trinidad and Tobago but in Europe, the United Kingdom, Israel, and some states in the United States.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, it is really our first wave since the previous set of cases were imported. The situation in India, Brazil and South Africa continues to be grim. The World Health Organization (WHO) has consistently warned that multiple waves of the disease were possible. They are due in part to the relaxation of the strict lockdowns which countries had initially imposed.
Many countries are now reluctant to re-impose lockdowns because of the high social and economic costs, but in fact countries like New Zealand and Australia did have to re-impose strict lockdowns to regain control of the spread of the disease.
But the second waves are also attributable to lack of discipline in adhering to the protocols—sanitising, wearing masks, physical distancing, and strict limits on people congregating.
Though election rallies have played a part, the lack of discipline is often also laid at the door of young people who have been congregating and partying with scant regard for the protocols.
This indiscipline may be born out of perceptions of youthful ‘invincibility’, as well as the reports earlier on during the pandemic that older people were more likely to get sick and to die.
But the WHO was always clear that everyone and anyone could get the virus, could get seriously ill and could die, even if they had no co-morbidities.
Another factor contributing to indiscipline has been weariness of being locked-down. Psychologists have been warning about the mental effects of enforced confinement or restrictions on what we can do and when.
Gyms have been closed and even outdoor exercise has been limited. Church attendance or religious observances are restricted and indeed impossible for those over 65 years old.
Parents have had to accommodate their lives and routines to children being at home instead of at school, with the added responsibility for supervising home-schooling. For parents who are less able, the situation is stressful. In some households, breadwinners may have been laid off or furloughed, reducing family incomes. Small wonder that reported instances of domestic violence and child abuse have increased.
Governments have responded to breaches of the protocols with increasingly hefty fines. For example, the UK has now imposed a fine of £10,000 (TT$90,000) for persons who breach the requirement to self-isolate. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have imposed fines of $1,000 for failure to wear masks.
Our courts have declared that the regulations are justified, reasonable and proportionate in the context of a public health emergency such as COVID-19.
It is understandable that persons will be stressed in these ‘COVID times’ and will chafe at the restrictions which we all have to observe. But the consequences of failure to adhere to the protocols are severe indeed.
As we saw in New York, northern Italy, and Spain, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and deaths will increase. This disease seems to present societies with a choice, not between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ outcome, but between two bad outcomes.
In fact, the difference rests really on the extent to which citizens are prepared to be self-disciplined. Fines may be necessary but are not sufficient. The police cannot be everywhere.
COVID-19 is having multiple impacts on our economic and social lives. Perhaps the most significant impact is that it is calling on us all to grow in self-discipline, to accept the cross we have been asked to bear, individually and collectively, and to grasp the opportunity to grow in faith, in hope, and in charity.