“WE ARE ALL SOLDIERS IN THE SAME WAR” SAYS FORMER PM SIR JAMES MITCHELL 

This is an article that ran in Bequia This Week and with Nicola’s permission I’m posting it here. Once again, Sir James Mitchell brings a needed perspective.

Speaking on WE FM Radio’s ‘Issue at Hand’ programme on Sunday morning, former SVG PM Sir James Mitchell said he “wanted to beg…to plead…to ask …to beseech” the people in all the towns and villages of St. Vincent, and all the Grenadine islands to get vaccinated, saying he was 100% for vaccination. 

Referring to the impact that Covid has had on the hospitality sector, Sir James said: “Without tourism, where would we be? …”We have to get our tourism going, and get our country prosperous again,” adding that he would support whatever measures it took to get to 100% vaccination for SVG. 

Asked about the issue of ‘mandatory vaccination’, Sir James said that, for him, the word “mandatory” was being abused. “No-one is forcing you to do something if they give you a choice, in my view…,” he said, and asked: “Do you exercise your choice in your own self interests? Or what is good for your community?” 

He continued that he believed a lot of people who took a stance against vaccination had comfortable, steady-income jobs and savings, and questioned if those people really cared about the poor, or about the people who could not afford food or medicine for their children. 

“Our economy is devastated… tourism is dying,” Sir James said, adding that PM Ralph Gonsalves was correct to draw attention to the numbers of unvaccinated workers in the medical profession, even if some were unhappy about this exposure.  “You want to be on the front line, but you don’t want people to know whether you are vaccinated or not?” he asked.

Sir James then made the proposal that the Gvt. should allocate a EC$1 million dollar fund, seeking external funding, to be administered by the “Hotel Association” [SVG Hotel and Tourism Association] that would allow 20,000 Vincentians the opportunity to receive a EC$50 voucher for a meal at a hotel or restaurant of their choice – once they show proof of having newly-received their first vaccine shot.

This initiative, he said, would hopefully be both an incentive for persons to get vaccinated, and for the the hospitality sector to see some business. “It could be tried – or it might be nonsense”, said Sir James, adding that the actual logistics of how it would work should be left to the Hotel Association. 

Looking ahead, Sir James reminded listeners that the two questions being asked by potential visitors are: ‘Is St. Vincent and the Grenadines safe?‘ and ‘Are all your staff vaccinated?’ He further asked how persons would respond to these questions, given the clear evidence about the low vaccination rate in the country. “You can’t lie”, he said.

He stated categorically that “the best tool we have [to beat Covid and get back to normal] is vaccination,” adding that “the whole world” agreed with that conclusion. All energy should be 100% focused on getting people vaccinated, he continued, repeating his urgent plea to everyone to take the vaccine.

This is not a political issue,” Sir James said in closing his telephone interview. “We are in a crisis. We are all in this together. We are all soldiers in the same war.”

Contributing to the same broadcast, PM Drthe Hon. Ralph Gonsalves responded to Sir James’s remarks by saying that he had listened to every word, and agreed with every single thing that Sir James had said, adding that “everything … was said with clarity, commitment and passion”. 

The PM continued by reminding listeners that the people of SVG had entrusted Sir James and himself with the leadership of the country for over 36 years out of the 42 years since independence, and in light of this, they should trust them now when they both had an identical position with regard to vaccination, not least because their position was wholly in line with all known scientific advice.

This identically-shared position was in concert with all 193 countries in the UN, the PM said, adding that the requirement for front line workers to be vaccinated was happening “all over the world”, and singled out the US and Canada as specific examples.

The PM reminded listeners that the five recent deaths in SVG included persons who had no underlying health issues, and that case numbers were “galloping” up

He said that ‘population immunity’ could only be reached when vaccination numbers reached 90%, and that there were two ways to reach this figure: Either for everyone to get Covid – which would mean a lot of people dying, and a lot of hospitalisations – or by vaccination.

The PM warned that tourism will not get back to normal without everyone being vaccinated or at least reaching this 90% vaccination rate.  He cited the example of Mustique which annually provides about EC$150 million dollars into the SVG economy, but which, he said, was now was temporarily laying off a number of workers, including construction workers, due to Covid infections. (See report in IWN News here.)   

The PM said he would give his support to Sir James’ proposal for the $1 million fund to incentivise vaccination if the Hotel Association felt that it would work, but warned that vaccine incentives had not always proved to be successful.

He repeated that at the same time, people on front line positions had to be given a choice: whether to be vaccinated – or to be not vaccinated and find another job, adding that he had received a number of demands from both parents and teachers, that teachers be included amongst those categorised as front line workers.

Vaccination numbers amongst front line workers at the main airport and seaports were still very low, the PM continued, saying “It cannot continue like this. Something has to give.”

In closing comments, the PM said that front line workers should understand that the Gvt. has to find EC$31 million per month to cover the cost of salaries, NIS, pensions etc., and that people were living in a dream world if they did not recognise the fiscal challenges the country was facing. 

“Unless we take this vaccine, we are going to end up in real, real difficulties”, said the PM.

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