Social distancing rules were thrown out the proverbial window yesterday as candidates filed nomination papers to contest the Tobago House of Assembly election on December 6.
Supporters of the two major competitors in the five-party race, the People’s National Movement and the Progressive Democratic Patriots, showed up in their numbers at the various locations throwing caution to the wind, forcing the T&T Police Service to closely monitor and warn them of their activities.
There were instances where supporters let the excitement of the moment take over their good judgement, prompting officers to remind supporters of the COVID-19 health regulations in force.
ASP Williams Nurse summed it up when he told a PDP group, “Don’t be foolish, the intensive care beds in Tobago, there’s only one left, don’t be a fool.”
This is the third election in the past 15 months where it seems the authorities’ pleas to maintain all protocols in the face of rising cases have fallen on deaf ears. The scene was no different in last August’s general election and again in the THA election in January that resulted in the 6-6 tie, prompting the current return to the poll.
While the supporters of the main parties yesterday seemed immune to the near 2,000 deaths from COVID in T&T and the daily rise in cases, they would also do well to note Tobago’s low vaccine rate — only 21,628 fully vaccinated people out of over 60,000 — and 106 deaths from the virus.
Health officials yesterday again cautioned that the current spike could see new cases reach 1,000 a day or more by the end of the month. With that comes an expected increase in deaths.
It is inconceivable that so many citizens don’t seem to care or understand the enormity of the issue facing the country.
With Delta fully engrained in communities, the fact that so many Tobagonians are unvaccinated should be a cause for concern to all parties and their followers. Although many will argue the stakes are high for this election, it cannot be business as usual.
The end of the State of Emergency tomorrow, therefore, should not be seen as a signal for freedom of movement to trump the urgent need to keep safe and adhere to the protocols.
An election at a time when a spike is forecast to get worse should serve as a wake-up call to everyone.
Those at the helm of these political parties must, therefore, insist that their supporters keep within the national guidelines and encourage them to co-operate with law enforcement seeking to enforce those rules.
Still, Health officials and those in authority owe it to this country to lay down the law for political meetings and let the police know they are within their rights to take full action against those who insist on breaching COVID regulations during the forthcoming campaigning.
For those still undecided as well, it is noteworthy to internalise the glaring statistic that of the 1,858 people who have died of the virus, 56 were fully vaccinated. Given the low vaccine uptake on the island, imagine if the hundreds of unvaccinated Tobagonians out campaigning behave as they did yesterday what T&T could face ahead.