At a press conference called last Thursday, the Prime Minister said that he finds it unacceptable that the Public Service Union (PSU) is balking at proposals (really a directive) that they, public officers and teachers, accept giving up their increments for fiscal year 2020/2021. The PSU had agreed to have their increments deferred. The Prime Minister said he was “utterly confounded” by the intransigence, of particularly the PSU, that “in the middle of this widespread social and economic devastation…they refuse to make even the tiny sacrifice” that his government is asking of them.
Mr. Dean Flowers, the 1st Vice President of the PSU, told 7News that the PSU is very concerned about what is taking place in the economy. Flowers suggested that the PSU wants to be included in discussions about cost-saving measures.
“COVID doesn’t have us where we are”, he told 7News. “Mismanagement, poor planning, lack of creativity, lack of discipline…have us where we are. And so, we’re saying, we would also like for us to do x, y, and z to fix the economic crisis that this country is experiencing,” he said.
It is not unusual for the country’s public servants to want to be included in the decision-making at this critical time, instead of being dictated to by political leaders who have disrespected our governance systems all the years they have been in control of the country’s finances. The public service includes highly qualified technocrats who have proven their capacity in regular times and in crises. They are not apprentices.
Everyone is feeling the pain. The Prime Minister says his government is doing all it can, and to spare persons paid from the public purse, and ensure that they get their salaries, the government will borrow until it can’t borrow anymore. This hasn’t swayed the members of the PSU, a body that is historically one of the most nationalistic in Belize. The PSU wants to share with government its ideas to help solve the economic crisis.
The PSU wants to discuss ideas it believes are good for the country. To the very last, with our country in the throes of an economic crisis it hasn’t seen in many generations, the decision-making process of the party that controls government is skewed by its obsession with giving itself the best chance at the polls in the next general election.
With about six months to go before the next general election, we naturally have a lame duck government, and it has been made weaker because our economy that was on the ropes has been completely felled by COVID-19. It is what it is. Everyone in Belize knows what’s what. Instead of flexing their muscles the UDP should be eager to hear the public servants who say they have some ideas that can help save us.
Belize can’t afford a second wave
The Prime Minister has said that we are on a path to more easing of the restrictions that were put in place when the first case of COVID-19 was discovered. The Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, has said that as night follows day, there will be a second wave of COVID-19 in Belize. If/when there is this second wave of COVID-19, if it is of any magnitude, we could be placed under severe restrictions again.
The hardship under the first lockdown was tough. The hardship under a second lockdown would be worse because our country will be more broke than it was when we were under the first lockdown. Belize cannot afford another lockdown. Belize cannot afford a second wave at this time.
Dr. Manzanero has said that he has sensed that people are beginning to let their guard down. He doesn’t have to look very far to find out why we are slipping.
The buck always stops at leadership. In the USA, the people are confused, because their political leaders are telling them one thing and their medical experts are telling them something else. Our leaders pass laws, as usual, and they send out the police, as usual, but they never have the interest to engage the people, they never have the energy to get into the trenches to fully explain the ‘why’ of what they are doing.
There are a lot of voices out there, at home and abroad, who are not paying full attention to the medical authorities. Some of us still don’t grasp the message of senior virologists the world over who are saying that they’ve never seen a virus like COVID-19 before.
People who have survived COVID-19 say it is worse than any flu they’ve ever had. At this time the mortality rate for COVID-19 is believed to be four times higher than the flu. Doctors say the disease doesn’t confine itself to the respiratory system, but it also attacks multiple organs and many of those who survive it are likely to suffer permanent damage.
The medical experts measure the life of flu viruses outside of the body in HOURS; they measure the life of COVID-19 outside of the body in DAYS. On average a person who has the flu can be contagious (spread the disease) for about a week, but many studies are saying the average period of contagion for COVID-19 is twice that. This disease is worse than the worst flu, and it is twice as difficult to contain.
Nurses just might have the toughest job on earth, for daily they are in full contact with the body fluids of sick people. In a pandemic their risk is upped a hundredfold. We should do everything in our power to not increase the danger to the lives of our nurses. We should try our best to avoid getting sick. Observe physical distancing at all times, wear a mask when in public at all times, wash our hands and disinfect publicly handled surfaces frequently.
Because of the dire state of our economy, the government is thinking about opening the country to tourists as soon possible. In case they have forgotten, or didn’t notice, we recommended that when we start accepting tourists again, we should isolate the people who work in the industry from the rest of the population. If we do that, we will decrease the spread of the disease if anyone gets infected.
We possess many glorious attributes, but our most important attribute at this time is that we have COVID-19 under control. If we are loose, we will get that second wave. A second wave doesn’t only mean that tourism goes on the backburner again; it means that we go into lockdown again— and that we cannot afford.
We have to earn our daily bread; it is not possible for us to survive for long in a state of emergency. At the end of the day we must be able to say we did our best. Belize, maybe with all our best efforts, we cannot stay COVID-19-free until there are some good medicines to treat it, but we have to try.