Kingstown – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says “Vincy Mas” will return to the St Vincent and the Grenadines cultural calendar in March this year, but cautioned that the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination rate would determine the size of the festival.
“It was decided clearly that we will have Carnival this year,” Gonsalves said on a radio programme here on Sunday, telling listeners that health authorities would ramp up their vaccination effort over the next two months, with the hope of vaccinating 70 per cent of the 80 000 people who are 12 years and older.
As of Sunday, 63 669 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered here.
Vincy Mas had not been held over the past two years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 94 lives and infected 9 447 others.
Gonsalves the decision to hold the festival this year was made at Cabinet last Wednesday, after a two-hour discussion with the Carnival Development Corporation (CDC).
He said that there are three basic functions of Carnival, including that Vincy Mas is a mass cultural event that showcases talent in mas, calypso, pan, and other areas as well as it being an economic activity.
“Every society needs occasions when you have releases. It’s a catharsis. You’re doing work all the time and you have to have something which you let off your energy; you release it. There are all sorts of events, you do that with sports, you do it with cultural events.”
Carnival, he said, is one such activity, with thousands of persons involved “and those who don’t come out enjoy it at home and, increasingly, on various internet platforms. And the public sector and the private sector are very much engaged.”
Gonsalves noted that in addition to the pandemic, St Vincent and the Grenadines has been affected by the explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano and the impact of Hurricane Elsa last year.
“It has been a difficult time for our nation. And in addition to the cultural dimension, and in addition to the economic, there is a need for some kind of collective relief. At least so we think in Cabinet. I’d be interested to hear what people think about this,” Gonsalves said, adding that the CDC’s proposal was “reasonable” and took into account the existing COVID-19 protocols and levels of vaccination.
“So naturally, I raised the question what kind of carnival would we have if we go for 70 cent vaccination by the end of March.
“So we try and do that in February and March — we do an all-out bigger campaign than ever. This is not just a question of getting the vaccine rate up, that’s one thing, but really we need something bigger than this slimmed-down version of Carnival.
“So, the idea is . . . to go on a mass campaign to up the vaccination rate and to link it also with the kind of carnival that we will have,” Gonsalves said, adding that linking the size of Vincy Mas to the vaccination levels is not an opportunistic move.
This is something which is strategic, both in terms of health, and for us, as a people to have this release after this tremendous strain and pressure and part of our quest to repair — fresh hope in life and living and for us to feel better.”
He said that while the government is focusing on infrastructural development, the social safety net and support for various types of production, “we need to do something existential”.
“And people are doing it with churches on Saturdays and Sundays, but healthy carnival activity is perfectly normal. And if the priests could play mas, who is we?”
Gonsalves said that Cabinet has asked the CDC to provide data as the government might not know until April “whether we’re going to have something big or something scaled down”.
He said that some Carnival makers may begin planning, and, for example, mas bands wanting to compete in the King and Queen of the Band competition may wish to begin making their costumes.
He said that some mas bands might be even cynical about whether the government would reach the vaccination target.
“Well, I want to know, what the sums involved are, if we have to provide a reimbursement in whole and substantial part for work which people do in the artistic creative field, in the months of February and March, or even into April, which they may not be able to use if the format is more constrained.
“You have to do these things simultaneously. And you have to hope that the best results come in each and every little thing that you’re doing towards this grand goal of a pretty normal Carnival.,” he added. (CMC)