Are we better off than a year ago?
As we head towards Good Friday and Easter, a big holiday for all of us and one with so much tradition and meaning, we reflect on the present spike and alarming uptick on positive Covid-19 cases.
It has now been more than a year since the pandemic altered our lives so drastically. Our health is challenged, jobs have been lost, many families struggle and our economy — poor before the pandemic — is on life support. We have learnt lot about the virus and know what we each must do to protect ourselves. Yet we find ourselves once again in the middle of a spike with new restrictions imposed and we must ask, “Are we in a better position now than in March 2020?”
Last Saturday, the Government announced further restrictions, which among them mandated retail and grocery stores open with 20 per cent occupancy, schools and camps closed, working from home mandatory where possible, churches closed to congregants, no indoor dining at restaurants, gyms and all indoor recreational spaces closed.
The Government has often stated how well we have done through Covid, but now with this spike our positive cases per capita has now risen above the world average. David Burt, the Premier, has been quoted as saying there are more positive cases because we are testing more and casting a wide net, but the fact is we have more positive cases because now we have community spread and much of the good work of rule-abiding citizens has been damaged. Despite the commendable efforts to distribute vaccines and encourage social distancing, we must start to rebuild again.
In addition, it appears this spike has caught the Government off guard with an alarming rise in positive cases coupled with frequent changes in restrictions as the numbers increase.
While we must do all we can to beat Covid, and there is a delicate balance with every decision during a massive spike in positive cases, the existing restrictions are another blow to many employees, businesses and the economy.
Businesses that have followed Covid restrictions and requirements, and have seemingly not contributed to the community transmission, have been once again dealt a significant blow to their operations. Many questions are asked … why were little or no details announced on an unemployment benefit for those now impacted at the time the restrictions were announced? Why have those that have breached regulations not been held accountable for putting our community at risk? Why, since retail and grocery stores are allowed to open at 20 per cent of capacity, can’t those not allowed to conduct indoor business also have safe suitable indoor capacity?
So I ask, once again, are we better off now than we were a year ago? Are local businesses, schools and households any better off than they were when this terrible virus struck our island?
Unfortunately, it seems this government has adopted the practice of evading difficult topics and avoiding direct responses to simple questions. For instance, when asked at the press conference on Saturday as to how many positive cases the latest testing revealed at the Department of Corrections, the Government failed to provide any clarity on the extent to which Covid has impacted officers and inmates. Let’s all hope that the Government changes course soon, as transparency and accountability are essential to getting the virus under control.
Moving forward, I hope the Government will provide more detail on the specific hotspots that contributed to this present massive spike and the tightened restrictions, how long it envisions them lasting, and information on how those out of work or being asked to quarantine through no fault of their own can be supported through this crisis.
Put simply, the people have a right to know.
• Michael Dunkley is the Shadow Minister for National Security and Health, and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)