Minister should take responsibility

If you’d ever seen someone in intensive care in respiratory distress with pneumonia, you would never forget it.

A strong, brave man desperately fighting for each unsuccessful breath. Watching as his exhausted muscles can no longer move his ribs and diaphragm, as his lungs fill with pus and fluid. Suffocating as surely as if someone were holding a pillow across his face. Listened to the consultants that smashing his ribs in an attempt at CPR would now be futile and agreeing to a ‘Do not attempt CPR’ on his notes. The utter helplessness of being sent home and waiting for the call you’re told will come later that night to say that your best friend has died.

COVID-19 kills people through pneumonia.

So what of the COVID-19 Cayman Islands government-compered press conference/circus yesterday (27 April)? I have no idea whether the Honourable Dwayne Seymour’s wife was breaching curfew and committing a criminal offence with her personal trainer, but the photographic evidence called for an answer in response to a reasonable question.

One would have thought it uncontroversial that the Honourable Minister of Health has a certain responsibility for public health. In times like this, that means supporting the curfew. At the very least, where something appears to undermine it, he should either explain that it didn’t happen (and why) or, if it did, accept it, state that he condemns it and reinforce the public health message.

What happened was none of those things. Instead the Honourable Minister appeared to threaten a journalist (not the first person he has threatened from his unwarranted seat at this press briefing) and embarked on an incoherent rant about donkeys. When a further attempt was made to obtain an answer, the journalist was shut down as CIGTV stepped in to spare the Honourable Minister’s blushes.

Over the last few weeks, I have lost track of the number of times that the Premier and the Governor (and the Honourable Minister) have told people to stay at home, reinforced the legal consequences of breaking the law, and reminded people that lives are at risk. Yet yesterday, despite minutes earlier having told the territory again that the rest of us must all stay locked down, there was no comment whatsoever on the Honourable Minister’s failure to answer the question.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve dealt with numerous calls from friends suffering the mental health consequences of self-isolation. I’ve seen people risk friendships as they’ve told those they know that their behaviour is unacceptable when they breach the curfew.

Each of us has a moral obligation to speak out in times like this, which we may shirk if we can square it with our own consciences, but as the territory’s leaders, the Governor and the Premier simply do not have that luxury of silence – they are responsible not only for public health but for the rule of law – and that breaks down when it appears not to apply to those in power or their families. They must address the position if the Honourable Minister fails to.

As for Mister Seymour, there are few things more odious than a bully – one who can dish out the abuse from a privileged position (‘gaypril’) but bursts into tears when it is returned. There is no honour in bullying. And there is no honour in lacking the bravery to call out those we see doing wrong when there are lives at stake, whether they are our friends, our family, or sitting at the desk next to us.

James Austin-Smith

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