Editorial: Three cheers for Sir Molwyn Joseph

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One of the more unfortunate developments in our national discourse is our readiness only to view things through the prism of our political persuasions; the red and blue divide. No contribution to national achievement is appraised solely on merit; rather we question whether the individual is ‘red’ or ‘blue’.

Take as an example the recent decision to bestow a knighthood on Sir Molwyn Joseph, the country’s Minister of Health who is overseeing the management of COVID-19. 

Antigua and Barbuda has done a commendable job in managing the outbreak and as the person heading this national effort, he was rightfully granted a knighthood, the nation’s second highest honour.

However, if one were to have formulated an opinion on the basis of the utterances of the host of a recently aired local talk show, one would have arrived at the conclusion that the government’s handling of the pandemic has been disastrous. 

No fair-minded and honest individual would arrive at that conclusion! The evidence does not support that view!

Let us examine the evidence. 

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Health show that a total of one-hundred and thirty one persons (131) have tested positive for COVID-19 in Antigua and Barbuda. Of this number, 122 have recovered. There have been three deaths, all of which were recorded in the first few weeks of the outbreak when the medical response to, and management of the virus were in the very early stages and when treatment of the disease and its symptoms was a global challenge.

It is noteworthy that of the 131 positive cases, more than half, 77 to be precise, were imported. Only 54 cases have been identified among the local population. 

These are the facts. 

From August to September there was a period of about five weeks in which no new cases of the virus were recorded.

Now we must concede that in recent weeks there has been an uptick in the number of cases, however, close scrutiny of these new cases indicates that there is nothing that the Minister of Health, or any other government official for that matter, could have done to prevent this unfortunate development. 

Sir Molwyn has addressed the Parliament on the matter of COVID-19 on at least three occasions, including the last meeting of the House of Representatives. On each occasion, his message has been consistent; practice the health protocols established by the Ministry of Health based on the recommendations of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). 

The Ministry of Health also embarked on an aggressive public relations campaign utilising traditional and social media to communicate this message to the entire nation.

The ministry also adopted a very transparent process to constantly keep the nation informed. Regular press conferences are held with senior officials of the ministry where media representatives are able to pose questions to the panel freely. Additionally, the ministry publishes a daily dashboard detailing the latest information regarding the results of tests that are conducted.

Upgrades of the country’s medical infrastructure has also been made to increase the capacity of medical personnel to handle the disease.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the laboratory at the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) has been upgraded and can now conduct PRC tests, the globally accepted standardized test for COVID-19. The human resource capacity of the lab has also been improved as staff have acquired new skills in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.

Despite a fall off in government revenues because of the lockdown earlier in the year, a fully equipped 17-bed national Infectious Disease Centre (IDC) has been developed at the former Margetson Ward at the Holberton Hospital. This is where all critical diseases will be dealt with now and in the future.

There is also the new 75-bed medical facility that was constructed at the former National Technical Centre on Nugent Avenue which will soon be furnished and stocked in preparation to accept patients. 

Antigua and Barbuda is well ahead of the curve in terms of its readiness and ability to handle a large-scale outbreak of coronavirus, should that ever occur. 

Sir Molwyn has been at the helm driving these developments. 

One must also remember that Antigua and Barbuda was the first country to reopen its borders on June 1this year, long before its Caribbean neighbours. From June to the end of September, over 20,000 visitors have been welcomed at hotels which in turn has provided employment for the people of Antigua and Barbuda.

If one were to reflect on the recent resurgence of cases, one thing becomes quite clear; the increase is largely due to people’s failure to follow the health and safety protocols established by the Ministry of Health. 

Truth be told, the increase in cases may be an unfortunate spin-off of the success of the government in managing the disease in that it has caused people to mistakenly think the threat of infection was so greatly reduced that there was no longer a need to comply with the health protocols. 

Put more simply, people let their guards down! 

One thing is clear, attempting to legislate people’s behavior and personal responsibility will always be difficult if not impossible.

In conclusion, it is clear that Sir Molwyn has done, and continues to do, an excellent job managing the country’s COVID-19 response. It is something we all should celebrate as we are all the beneficiaries of this good work. This is the time to lift up Sir Molwyn, not tear him down. 

It’s time to ‘give Jack his jacket’. 

Three cheers, Sir Molwyn! Job well done!