by Shelton Daniel
Stay in your lane, is essentially what a highly respected local medical expert has been told by a member of the Cabinet of Ministers, in response to the doctor’s criticism of a recent Government decision.
Dr. Lester Simon was recently (and has repeatedly been) praised by Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his contribution – in prominent and spearheading roles – to the national response against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Simon is widely venerated in his distinguished and very long-serving capacities as Antigua and Barbuda’s most senior pathologist and as head of laboratory services at the country main hospital, the Sir Lester Bird Mount St. John’s Medical Center.
In addition to that, Dr. Simon is chairman of the National Working Group on COVID-19, a capacity in which he has regularly engaged with the public via all available media to disseminate and defend scientific information pertaining to the virus and proven methods of combatting its spread.
He has also openly rebutted vaccine conspiracy theorists and critics of sustained containment measures such as continued mask wearing, social distancing, curbs on mass crowd gatherings, etc.
But government’s recent decision to permit a controlled reopening of fetes (see Pointe Xpress of Wednesday 2nd June 2021, Pages 8-9, Fete Promoters and Government Agree on a Restart of Party Season) has not gone down well with Dr. Simon who, on his personal Facebook page, has described the decision as “madness”.
Among other reasons explained for his disagreement, Dr. Simon is worried that unvaccinated people will somehow be able to breach the admission control measures put in place.
He has also warned that once attendees become absorbed into the revelry, with the usual attendant consumption of alcoholic beverages, they will quickly dispense with protective measures such as keeping on their masks.
Simon further went on to express alarm at plans to resume the nation’s annual carnival celebrations this year, after they were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
During the weekly live post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday morning, Information Minister Melford Nicholas was asked for Government’s reaction to Dr. Simon’s misgivings.
He began his answer by saying that, “The government has not taken any position with regard to Dr. Simon. He has certainly expressed an opinion. What I would say at this point … is that within the lane that Dr. Simon has had to operate … we … relied on [his] input and technical expertise … Dr. Simon brings a degree of expertise on board which the Government has armed itself with and relied on his expertise in that particular area.”
Nicholas reminded that the challenge facing Government as a result of the pandemic has always been to simultaneously safeguard the nation’s health while maintaining livelihoods as well. “This is absolutely not Dr. Simon’s lane. We note his comments, but we have to give support and give an opportunity for other players to begin to play their role.”
He described the fete promoters as “absolutely doing the right thing in terms of embracing what it is going to take for us to be able to return to a level of normalcy. They have indicated economic hardships and there are a number of persons who they have employed. So, from the standpoint of where the government is concerned … once we are taking care to ensure that we do not have any super-spreading events … they are operating upon the guidelines of the Ministry of Health … that must be understood as the over-riding consideration.”
He added with finality that, “Again, this is not Dr. Simon’s lane.”