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Political consent depends on consistency

Hundreds march on the Cabinet building in protest of the Government’s Covid restrictions and protocols (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Few are coming out of the controversy over mandatory supervised quarantine very well.

That is as true for the opponents of mandatory supervised quarantine, who often display a tenuous grip on science, as it is for the Government, which has appeared both arrogant, heavy-handed and insensitive to the concerns of those weary of Covid-19.

There is an overwhelming mass of evidence to show that the non-immunised are much more at risk than the immunised of catching Covid-19 or one of its more virulent variants. They are also vastly more likely than the immunised to spread it if they fail to socially distance or to quarantine.

It is true that immunised people can catch the virus and can pass it on. But the numbers are minuscule in comparison with the unimmunised. Of the 260 people who arrived at the airport and tested positive for Covid-19 within 14 days, six were immunised. The other 97.7 per cent were unvaccinated. Even the most obstinate anti-vaxxer must concede that the maths does not lie.

All of the evidence backs this up. Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory director Carika Weldon’s affidavit in the ongoing Supreme court case explains this well and is available on The Royal Gazette’s website. Dr Weldon is one of the few people whose stock continues to rise in this pandemic.

There is also evidence to show that both the December spike and the disastrous March spike in cases — in which 21 people died and thousands were infected — were caused by infected people who breached quarantine and social-distancing rules, and socialised with others. It takes only one person to spread the virus; something the community has known from the beginning.

On that basis alone, the Government was right to impose mandatory supervised quarantine on people travelling to the island in order to make sure that they would not cause a new spike of cases, which would bring on the one thing all can agree Bermuda does not want — another lockdown.

it is also fair to require those people, excepting children and those with medical exemptions, to pay for their accommodation because they had a choice before they decided to travel. If they wished to travel off the island, they could get a vaccination. No one has forced them to travel, but they knew the rules before they departed. It is unreasonable to expect the taxpayer to foot the bill on their return.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of those who do end up in paid quarantine would obey the rules if they were at home. Sadly, because of the actions of a misguided and cavalier few, the majority must suffer.

The Chief Medical Officer, Ayo Oyinloye, whose stock also continues to rise, also explained very well this week the reason why so-called natural immunity is not equivalent to vaccine immunisation. This, too, is available online in detail, but in brief, immunity from infection does not last as long, can be inconsistent in its protection and antibodies created through one variant of the virus may be of no use in preventing an individual from getting another.

The Government is not blameless in this, however.

When the People’s Campaign, supported by the Progressive Labour Party, prevented the democratically elected government of the day from passing the legislation for the new airport by blockading the House of Assembly, it justified its action as an act of civil disobedience.

It was warned then that doing so to block legislation simply because it disagreed with it would lead to others using the same rationale for legislation or policies they opposed.

The chickens have come home to roost. Quarantine resister Sophia Cannonier is no Rosa Parks, but the airport protesters were not the equivalent of the Progressive Movement, either.

David Burt, the Premier, has also fallen back on the same trope used whenever someone fears they are losing an argument — that anyone who resists this policy is doing so for political reasons.

Some may be, but that does not relieve Mr Burt or his government from defending the policy on legitimate grounds.

The Premier may well be armed with 30 seats, but this simply means that the threats to his leadership may be fiercer from within the PLP than without.

Jamahl Simmons, the former Cabinet minister, tweeted this week: “The image of PLP officials being escorted by police for their protection is one I never thought I would live to see.

“I will continue to advocate within my party on behalf of my constituents, for healing, listening, greater humility and more inclusive decision making.“

This is not in fact the first time PLP MPs have needed escorts, but the point is well made, as is this less than subtle criticism of the Cabinet’s approach to governance.

From the beginning of the pandemic, this newspaper has emphasised that asking people to give up their civil liberties can be done only with consent. People will give them up only when they recognise that it is necessary to do so for the greater good.

For much of the pandemic, as Mr Burt wistfully recalled recently, the community did indeed consent to temporarily giving up their freedom of movement because they understood why it was necessary.

A vocal minority no longer accepts this. The Government has great powers to enforce these laws, but should never have to use them. Instead, it should marshal its powers of persuasion, facts and science to make its case, while also encouraging people to get to herd immunity so no restrictions are required in future.

And it must be seen to be transparent and consistent. When the Government says crowds of 50 will need special exemptions for gatherings and that SafeKey will be needed for those exempted events, it is unhelpful when the sports minister arbitrarily decides that outdoor gatherings of up to 100 do not need SafeKey after all, and that if it is a cricket match, up to 275 people can attend without it.

Ernest Peets, the minister in question, declared that exemptions needed to be made on a “case by case” basis. This is exactly wrong. Exemptions need to be made based on the science and on a visibly consistent basis so there is never “one rule for some and one for others”.

People will make sacrifices when they know they are shared. They won’t when they feel they are not.

This inconsistency simply gives ammunition to opponents of sound and sensible policies. Defensive, arrogant and oppressive responses to those who would oppose the policies for whatever reason simply means that the Government has failed in its primary roles — to persuade and to lead by consent.

For Carika Weldon’s affidavit and Ayo Oyinloye’s discussion on immunity, please see Related Media

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Published July 19, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated July 17, 2021 at 9:17 pm)

Political consent depends on consistency

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