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Working together

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 06, 2021

Trinidad and Tobago is a small society. It consists of about 1.4 million souls in a world of 7.9 billion people. A pandemic has struck the world.

At the time of writing, there were 263,510,704 cases and 5,224,655 deaths as a result of this pandemic. In the United States, there were 48,144,799 cases and 777,090 deaths; in India, 34,606,541 cases and 470,115 deaths; in Brazil, 22,105,872 cases and 614,964 deaths.

In T&T there were 73,759 cases and 2,215 deaths. Over 300 children have tested positive for Covid-19, while there have been four recorded deaths of children. However, as of November 24, in terms of cases and deaths per million, T&T stands second worldwide to the UK, according to Johns Hopkins' Covid website.

This trend will continue, given the discovery of Omicron, a new strain of the virus. As of Friday, 58,866 Trinbagonians had recovered from the disease, while 541 are hospitalised. The deaths were not listed by race, gender or political party. Trinbagonians from every nook and cranny are succumbing to the disease. Yet, we are still subjected to internecine pettiness.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says Tim Gopeesingh should be happy that the medical team saved his life. "Now that he is recovered, the same doctors that he owes his life to, he now finds that it is politically convenient to attack them at every possible turn" (Express, November 30). Gopeesingh replies that he is "more qualified in the medical field than Deyalsingh, whom he referred to as a 'two-by-four druggist'... When I speak, I speak with authority and confidence" (Express, December 1). One wonders why Gopeesingh needed to demean Deyalsingh's professional competency to make his point.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns its citizens that T&T has now been included in the destinations which US travellers should avoid, regardless of their vaccination status. The US Embassy in T&T warns: "Do not travel to T&T due to Covid-19. Exercise increased caution in T&T due to crime, terrorism and kidnapping" (Express, December 2).

Last week, prison officers Trevor Serrette and Nigel Jones were murdered in broad daylight, suggesting that neither daylight nor darkness provides any comfort. A third prison officer, Umar Akil Farrell, and policeman Ruvi Mungalsingh, were attacked in El Dorado on Wednesday.

Prison Officers Association president Ceron Richards says 11 more prison officers are targeted to be killed by Christmas. Responding to a letter about the alleged ill treatment of the inmates of Block 13, Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan declared: "They [the deadly assassins] are at war, and propaganda is the tool of terrorists. No such thing was reported or heard of prior to this letter being released to the public" (Express, December 2).

DCP McDonald Jacob says the police will be doing "fundamental things in our new approach [to policing] which we will reveal very soon" (Express, December 2). One wonders if this new way of doing things explains the presence of a marked police vehicle with two police officers "directly behind the perpetrators' vehicle as the perpetrators [of Jones's murder] escaped from the crime scene".

How does this happen? Are police officers doing their work, afraid of the criminals, or are they incompetent? While the police are willing to rough up unarmed protesters (as in the case of the 30 people arrested at the Queen's Park Savannah), they are unable to confront two armed killers who are caught in the act.

While this crime war goes on, the pandemic rages, and the US cautions its citizens about visiting T&T, there is little urgency to select a CoP or to provide a collective political response to this emergency. Both the UNC and the Government parade their virtues while the island descends deeper into a quagmire of abandonment.

What would it take to get both sides to declare a common policy on crime and the pandemic? Shouldn't a UNC shadow minister of health (if they have one) and Deyalsingh find a single strategy or common message to deal with the virus? This has nothing to do with one side selling out to the other. It has to do with a common sense approach towards governing.

The same is true of policing. T&T had a CoP for the last three years. Instead of building upon that framework, we are still offering patchwork approaches to this problem. While the Government has put together new criteria to select another CoP, is it possible to create a PNM and a UNC team that can work together to effectuate a practical solution to the crime plague?

We will continue to throw insults at one another (who is a bush doctor and who is a qualified doctor) as public deaths and murders increase, while our lay scholars seek to convince us why we shouldn't take the vaccine.

The Omicron strain of the virus poses a danger to the world. One report suggests that Omicron "marks such a step-change from its ancestors that scientists fear the immune response programmed by the original vaccines may no longer work as effectively". These scientists believe Omicron possesses "an unprecedented 50 mutations" (FT, December 2). They warn that "the new variants are more likely if large parts of the world remain unvaccinated" (FT, December 1).

Each Trinbagonian should be mandated to take the vaccine. For public safety, restrictions should be placed on those who don't. Like Germany and Austria, we should prevent unvaccinated people from participating in many aspects of public life.

We put ourselves in great danger while we evade the most sensible approach to solving our problem: that is, working together as fellow citizens. No constitution can change that reality.

As Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the UN-backed vaccine alliance, warns: "No one is safe until everyone is safe."

Prof. Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe