— Former PM ‘cannot understand a politician who is lukewarm about vaccination or not prepared to take a stand.’
Former prime minister Sir James Mitchell has spoken out in support of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy.
He further called out politicians who are “lukewarm about vaccination”, comments that some observers say are yet another swipe at the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which he founded in 1975 and led until October 2000.
“The prime minister is not doing anything that the rest of the world not doing,” Sir James said of Ralph Gonsalves, who heads the Unity Labour Party administration.
“ So you look at what [President] Macron is doing [in France]. You look at what Canada is doing, etc. We have to do all we can to get people vaccinated and convince them. Spend our energies convincing people to get vaccinated. Any other thing, any other statement, for me, is inadequate,” Sir James said on WE FM on Sunday.
“… politicians set out to lead the people and we are in crisis. If you don’t want to stand up and be counted now in a crisis, what justification have you being in politics?” he said on Issue At Hand.
Sir James, who retired from electoral politics in October 2000, said that his hotel in Bequia was closed on Sunday because of the impact of the pandemic.
He suggested that the government award an EC$50 voucher for a meal at a restaurant to each of 20,000 Vincentians taking a first jab.
“I cannot understand a politician who is lukewarm about vaccination or not prepared to take a stand. Are they not aware that they are going against the tide of history? Are they going to change their mind when, like Grenada, 105 people die in St. Vincent from COVID? What makes you think we will escape? COVID is not going away, it will be here. And we have got to learn to protect ourselves,” Sir James said in comments that observers say are directed at the NDP.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, who is fully vaccinated, has repeatedly said that his party believes that vaccination is the fastest and safest way out of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Friday, however, said that the NDP does not support mandatory vaccination and that education should be used to persuade people to take the jab.
Sir James Mitchell said that some people have advocated for protocols such as frequent washing of hands and wearing of face masks.
“That is fine. But it is only one of the tools to fight COVID,” he said, adding that vaccination is the best tool.
“The best tool is vaccination. That is what the whole world thinks; [what] every country thinks. Everybody is aiming to be there,” he said.
The 90-year-old politician said a meeting of the Interaction Council of former presidents and prime ministers, which was scheduled for last year November was postponed to April, then to December because of the pandemic.
“And now I got a communiqué yesterday that St. Vincent and other countries in Latin America, in our region, are not certified to travel to Malta. And not just St. Vincent; Nigeria and some parts of Africa,” said Sir James, who is fully vaccinated.
“So the label is out there internationally,” referring to vaccination levels in SVG.
He said that in the hotel business, potential guests ask two questions: “Is St. Vincent safe?” and “Is or your staff vaccinated?”
“What are you going to do, lie? You can’t lie because the statistics on St. Vincent, anybody can pick it up on the cell phone. You just have to Google world vaccination statistics, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and your figures will come up.
Sir James noted the COVID-19 situation in the Americas.
“PAHO has just released the figures about our region, the Americas — 88 million people confirmed as suffering from COVID; 2.175 million persons dead. Come on. Where are we going? How are we going to be safe?”
He said he had received the heart-breaking news the previous day that his godson’s daughter in Canouan had contracted COVID, presumably at a school graduation.
“There are problems all around. It makes me want to cry,” Sir James said.
I plead, I beg; I ask Vincentians, go for it. Don’t worry with those who want to say, ‘I agree with it but not mandated.’ Any politician who talks about the word mandated, he does not understand the problem of communication with our people.
“If you say I am for vaccination, but I am not for mandatory vaccination, the word mandatory drops and people will label you and say you are against vaccination,” Sir James said.
“You got to be on board on all counts. I regret to say that everybody is entitled to their view but as a scientist, as a person who has spent a lot of time 50 years of my life, helping and looking after the people of St. Vincent, if you think you owe me one, the one thing that I say Vincentians owe me is to get vaccinate. Please, go and get vaccinated.”