There is a dark cloud hanging over Carnival 2022.
The Prime Minister squarely addressed it at the commissioning of the Chatham Government Primary School on Monday.
He said, “I am sure half of you young people you were looking forward and asking me whether there is going to be a Carnival next year.
“Great. I would love to tell you there would be a Carnival next year. But what if (the) delta (variant) and the Carnival come together – what is going to happen?
“And what if half of the population is not vaccinated…?”
There might have been some who believed that come 2022 the covid19 pandemic would be a thing of the past, something to reflect on and possibly create engaging content around.
But it is clear that worldwide the fight against the pandemic is far from over.
Some Carnival stakeholders believe the way out of covid is through vaccination.
Newsday interviewed five major stakeholders – the National Carnival Commission (NCC), Pan Trinbago, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Bands Association (TTCBA), Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) and the TT Promoters Association (TTPA).
For them, a Carnival 2022 is hinged on many factors but chief is TT’s vaccination process.
Dr Rowley’s doubt about a Carnival next year comes as no surprise to Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore.
While she remains hopeful that there will be one, safety is the top priority.
She said as a commissioner of the NCC, the festival’s guiding body has been monitoring the situation.
A second consecutive year without the festival is going to be a big blow to the organisation and the country as a whole. Carnival is a major source of revenue for the country: a news.gov.tt article said in 2018 Carnival visitors spent $318 million.
Ramsey-Moore said TT generated close to $1 billion in economic activity during Carnival.
She said that is why Pan Trinbago has been focusing on diversifying its revenue streams.
“That is one of the benefits out of this evil called covid. It has allowed us to change our direction.”
Pan Trinbago is an important organisation to TT, she said, that manages and works closely with over 300 bands in communities.
“Pan is community soul. It is the livelihood of some of our people. So we also have to inspire some of our people to also go into the direction that we are going.”
Given all that has happened with the pandemic, Ramsey-Moore said the organisation needed to do more than festivals and create other opportunities to become sustainable.
“Whilst we change the direction, we expect that NCC will continue to provide the support for special interest groups (SIGs) to continue to operate and do our work and monitor, and we are standing for the next Carnival.”
But she saw a way for Carnival and the entertainment industry to be kick-started again and that is through vaccines.
“As long as people go out there and get the vaccines, TT might be able to have some kind of a postponed Carnival,”
Pan Trinbago has been encouraging its players and their families to take the vaccine, as “it is the only way.”
But that can only happen if there is an upsurge in people taking the vaccines, she added. That was the only way festivals can happen with live music and large audiences,
If there isn’t a Carnival 2022, will there be a virtual Panorama, as she discussed in Newsday on August 10?
Ramsey-Moore said there is definitely going to be some form of competition once the public health regulations allow.
“We are going to put forward some form of event. Hopefully, the bands are vaccinated. That is the only time we can talk about a virtual (Panorama).
“It is not going to be a Panorama as we know it. It is going to be a mini-something. We have to call it something else, because from the time you say ‘Panorama,’ there is a vibe that goes with it.”
TUCO holds a similar position. TUCO’s acting president Ainsley King – who took over on the death of Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba – said the organisation has seen the full effects of the pandemic and the pain it brings. That is why safety comes first.
“I don’t see anyone choosing to object to any attempts for precaution that one chooses to take in protecting the citizens of TT.”
King said it was important to have TT in a safer position.
While this places artistes and Carnival practitioners in a challenging position, since some people’s livelihoods are solely generated from the Carnival arts, he believes this is a time when the organisation will have to look to other directions.
“Go into ourselves and bring out our best. Try hard to find other ways of surviving until…”
TUCO will consider once again hosting virtual events if Carnival 2022 does not happen. It has been a “nice substitute” for the events that people are used to, King said.
Like many event organisers and managers around the world, King thinks the organisation will have to consider demanding proof of vaccinations at its events if there is a Carnival.
“Ensuring safety where people’s lives are concerned is priority. We will have to do whatever is necessary. So I say yes, we might have to consider that,” King said.
He believes not to do so might create situations that poses a possible threat to people’s lives.
In the eyes of the TTPA, a Carnival 2022 is possible but without repetition – it depends on TT’s vaccination rate. Its president, Jerome “Rome” Precilla, said Rowley did not say he would not have a Carnival.
He said Rowley was cautious in saying he would love to have a Carnival, but based on what was happening globally, he could not make that call at this moment.
This is the same approach the association is taking, he added.
“The more citizens get vaccinated, it is the higher the chances of us having a Carnival 2022.”
The association is hopeful Carnival could still take place, although it may be in a different form.
“We are still hopeful and very optimistic, because we are seeing the rates of vaccinations. We are only a bit short of what the target is, so by the end of September we would be able to make a better decision as to whether we can have a safe Carnival come 2022.”
It was also too early to tell whether proof of vaccinations would be required when the entertainment industry starts up again. While proof of vaccination would be hard to ascertain in a street parade, it was an option for events, he said.
“When we see what the vaccination rate is across the country, then we will be able to make a decision on whether we will have vaccinated events, mixed events or what would take place.”
But the technology was out there to identify if people were vaccinated or not, he said. He said the association was monitoring the situation closely and hoped it would not have to come to that.
Rome also hopes that come October the entertainment sector could reopen, starting with in-house dining at restaurants and bars.
Like the other stakeholders, the TTCBA’s focus is the health and welfare of the country.
In e-mailed responses, TTCBA president Rosalind Gabriel said given the present trends, the PM’s statement and position are “more than understandable” and “certainly rightfully stated.”
Even before Rowley gave his opinion, the organisation felt the same about the required number of vaccinations to achieve herd immunity, and that the delta variant would contribute to uncertainty over Carnival 2022.
“It is unfortunate what a second year of cancelled Carnival will augur for the national community, and in particular, the mas community. However, the greater danger lies in not doing all that we can do to turn the tide in our favour in the fight to curb the spread of, and eventually move past, the covid19 pandemic,” Gabriel said.
She said in the months that led up to what would have been Carnival 2021, the organisation had begun exploring various avenues and means of integrating virtual elements to mas and presenting costumes.
“One of the most notable achievements during this time came in the form of TT Carnival World (tntcarnivalworld.com), an online platform, hosted by the NCC, as a space where we could explore presenting mas virtually among other things.
“Going forward, as we continue to develop content and build capacity, we have every expectation that we will likewise continue to build out that space for the mas community on tntcarnivalworld.com.”
Whether or not one would need to show their vaccine cards at a Kings and Queens of Carnival at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, will be guided by the health protocols and guidelines set by the Government, Ministry of Health and other public health officials, Gabriel said.
“As an organisation, the TTCBA will continue to do what is best for the mas community as well as the public in keeping any events we host as safe as possible. This, of course, must come following close consultation with our stakeholders, who would most decidedly have their thoughts and concerns to share. This is not a decision that can or should be taken lightly,” she said.
While the economic loss if there is no Carnival is glaringly evident, the cultural and social loss is also quite obvious, she said.
“The atmosphere, good feelings, and sense of togetherness that typically circulate around Carnival time will be sorely missed even more were we to not be able to celebrate for a second consecutive time,” she added.
She said the organisation’s concerns lie not with the economic impact but rather the impact on the mas fraternity: some 30 per cent of bands are expected not to return whenever there is a Carnival again.
“The implications of this change in numbers are significant as the mas bands are a major part of what drives the festival. Their absence will be surely noted not only by their loyal followers but by many of us who simply enjoy and look forward to the diversity of pageantry and masquerade that are our Carnival’s lifeblood.”
The NCC, like the government and most of TT and the world, is monitoring and closely following the decisions of the Government and public health officials, it said in e-mailed responses to Newsday.
“Similarly, we share their concerns with respect to the many factors that must be considered in the discussion of a Carnival in 2022, given present events and the uncertainty surrounding the new delta variant and the possibility of future variants that could further threaten the festival’s return,” the commission said.
The organisation has been planning for a variety of scenarios, including no Carnival next year.
“The major thrust of our planning process, as such, remains, on exploring as many viable avenues as possible, including a much deeper foray into the virtual world through our online platform, tntCarnivalworld.com, which was launched in February 2021,” it said.
For a Carnival 2022 to happen, the commission said there would be many factors to consider, which range from the progress TT makes in its fight against the pandemic to global covid19 figures.
And conceptualising the annual festival would call for a group effort with all united by the commitment to do what is best for TT, the NCC said.
Asked if a Carnival 2022 were to happen, if it would be delayed, the commission said not necessarily.
It said this depended on when the official announcement is made and the “substantial level of progress” TT would have achieved in controlling the spread of the virus.
The NCC said all things considered, the festival could still take place as originally planned on February 28 and March 1 once it is ratified by the Government. But it added it could also be delayed in order to allow for planning and proper execution.
“While there are many factors to consider, in either case, we continue to follow the directives of the Honourable Prime Minister and the Government, and adjust our planning to suit,” it said.
At the time of writing TT’s vaccination figures stood at 339,267 fully vaccinated and 461,528 partially vaccinated people.