Signs are beginning to emerge in the 15-nation CARICOM bloc of nations of concerted efforts by governments to hint at a return to normal post Covid life with several countries resuming annual carnival celebrations this year, others doing so virtually and a few scrubbing them altogether.
Authorities in Haiti, still struggling to recover from the early July assassination of President Jovenel Moise, a string of natural disasters and a tenuous security situation, this week cancelled the annual offing citing, as well, the country’s abysmally low vaccination rate of less than two percent of its 11 million-plus population. Haiti’s carnival coincides with Trinidad mostly in February and ends on Ash Wednesday.
“Carnival has always been a traditional and popular festival celebrated in all the large and medium-sized cities of the country. The government, because of the economic difficulties faced by the country, has decided this year not to organize a national carnival, but to support certain town halls who wish to offer their community carnival festivities by evaluating the health and security risks,” the announcement stated.
As the announcement was made public, Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves made it clear his island nation was going the other way with plans for a full scale celebration in late June. This is even as he appealed for a major uptake in vaccination rates as less than 40,000 of the 110,000 population has been fully vaccinated. Gonsalves said the celebrations would be a sure and safe event if only locals would cooperate and take the rate up to 70 percent.
“It is a mass cultural event where individuals express their skills, it is an occasion for economic activity, and it is a relief for people. Every community needs occasions where people may let off steam; it’s a catharsis. You have to have something where you can let off your energy because you work all the time,” he said at the weekend.
Others set to hold public events include The Bahamas and St. Lucia this year, but Guyana and Trinidad have indicated plans to stage largely scaled down versions of their normally multi-tiered events that normally include a street carnival parade, public calypso and soca competitions, steel pan contests and a slew of other events inclusive of fetes and calypso tents.
St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism, Ernest Hilaire said this week that “in case you haven’t heard, we recently announced major event news. After a two-year hiatus, Saint Lucia carnival will return with a safe and responsible approach in July 2022. This year’s festivities will be dubbed ‘The Vaxxed Mas.’ Dominica and Grenada are yet to unveil their plans this year but planners appear to be confident that officials will relent and allow for amended versions this year.
And for the second successive year, Trinidad has cancelled its world class street parades, large fetes and a few other outdoor events. “Concert type events” will be staged but vaccinated patrons will be confined to safe pods in smaller than normal groups. Minister of Health, Terry Deyalsingh says this is the way to go for now, until the Covid situation improves. Trinidad has been among the worst hit regional countries with more than 3,500 deaths since March of 2020. Guyana’s Feb. 23 street parade is also off and most events will be held virtually.
“We are taking very brave measures to open up as many sectors in society as possible, especially to those people who are vaccinated. We are in full support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts to start to reopen the entertainment sector as carefully as possible as they are doing,” said Deyalsing.
In Antigua where the island is preparing for early elections, Prime Minister Gaston Browne says this year’s edition hinges on improved vaccination rates as well as a steady decline in the number of infections.
“As the epidemiological situation improves and public health conditions allow for a return to large gatherings, one of our primary objectives will be to facilitate the return of carnival which will be culturally infused with dynamism,” Browne said. In The Bahamas where the world’s largest cruise ships have resumed port calls, there is an official countdown to carnival in April.