The cure shall not be worse than the virus

The cure shall not be worse than the virus

Friday, April 10, 2020

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IF you have a headache, you can take medication like Advil or Panadol, and they will advise you of the maximum amount you can take say in 24 hours. If you do not take any measures to stop the headache, you will of course suffer the headache for a longer time than if you took some medication. And at the other extreme if you take more than the recommended dosage in the 24-hour period, you will of course get rid of the headache but may end up with a problem worse than the headache.

The best solution therefore is to take the recommended dosage and more than likely you will get rid of the headache and also not suffer the consequences of overdosing.

This is the same decision that the rime minister (PM) has been faced with recently, regarding how to treat with the COVID-19 situation, and indeed the decision faced by many leaders around the world. All face the tough decision of how to ensure the right balance of medication for the COVID-19 cure, while not overdosing and causing a significant shutdown of the economy. Because, while we may get rid of the virus by totally shutting down all economic activity, we could suffer serious economic consequences that would result in severe future hardship for many individuals, and could result in significantly increased poverty, crime, and problems with the financial system and pension fund survival.

The choice faced by our PM, therefore, was how do I find this correct mix, and apply the right dosage of medication. We have seen in some countries where there has been a delay in providing the required dosage that they are now suffering a serious challenge as it relates to infections, death, and decimation of their economic systems (US and Italy come to mind).

One of the decisions that proved critical was knowing when to implement the necessary preventive measures, and this was one of the ways in which both the US and Italy got it wrong. On the other hand, in our situation, my view is that we applied the adequate preventive measures early, and any later could have been disastrous.

We made the right decision from the start to not wait until the headache got too bad and caught it just in time before it turned into a serious migraine. The importance of this initial decision is that the longer you wait to prevent the virus from taking hold, is the more stringent the measures will be.

So if we had shut down the borders as soon as it was identified that the virus was in the US and UK (major trading partners), we would not have had to impose any curfews as more than likely no virus would be with us.

On insisting that everyone go into forced quarantine on arrival, that decision was maybe not possible because of flight commitments and lack of resources, and so we were faced with some cases being introduced, which turned out to be exacerbated by some very irresponsible and selfish people.

This only shows what I have always maintained though in times of crisis we cannot rely on moral suasion.

After some four weeks since our first case, the PM was again faced with a decision, which was to either continue the shutdown of economic activity (as some would want, especially health care professionals) or put monitoring measures in place and relax somewhat the economic restrictions. The decision is not an easy one as he has to decide between the risk of spreading the virus, and the potential consequences, on the one hand — or further economic disruption and increased hunger to many, as we need to realise that there are many people already close to, or below, the poverty line who have been severely affected.

In my view, the announced measures this week by the PM was a masterstroke in that balance, and reminded me of watching Lawrence “Yagga” Rowe, in my much younger days, as he elegantly played each ball bowled to him.

The PM announced that we would first go into a period of a further short-term suppression, taking advantage of the Easter holidays, by extending the curfew hours, by starting at 3:00 pm and going until 7:00 am the next morning, from Easter Friday until the Tuesday after Easter Monday.

He also announced that markets and beaches would be closed over the Easter holidays, and very importantly those who are most vulnerable, and are sick, must wear masks in public, as well as anyone going to a public location like a market.

As of next Tuesday, the curfew would then be relaxed, and start at 9:00 pm until 5:00 am, the next day onwards. After Easter, markets will then revert to the previous hours of 6:00 am to 2:00 pm, which is important to keep the economic activity going for our farmers, who are going to be a very important part of our economic vibrancy after COVID-19, when we will, I think, emerge before the US and UK, and therefore will need to keep some restrictions on our borders. Or, if people are allowed to come in, they should go into mandatory quarantine or some rapid testing, which they should pay for.

These recent measures, I am sure, have also been informed by the numbers. In my view they have been somewhat encouraging. We have seen approximately 52 of the 63 cases being either imports or import-related, and 11 under investigation. This means that we are not seeing the degree of community spread which other countries are seeing, and this has no doubt to do with measures such as the Bull Bay and Corn Piece area quarantines, and the forced self-quarantine (although they could have been imposed earlier).

We also see that when the additional four cases were announced on Wednesday, they resulted from testing 50 people. The following day I saw a post that we tested over 70 people and we saw no new cases.

I agree with those who say that we need to do much more testing, as this is key to controlling the virus, but based on the fact that we have not seen significant increases in the virus in those tested, it means that we are controlling any great demand on the hospital capacit. Even though more people may have the virus, the fact is that they are not presenting themselves at the health facilities and so it is manageable. This for me is positive, as the strategy now must be to maintain the number of critical cases below the capacity of the health system.

So I think we have found the right mix, so far, between managing the impact of the virus and maintaining some amount of economic activity.

My hope is that we will continue to be stringent in applying health protocols and enforcement against those who disobey the orders, while increasingly opening back economic activity to ensure that the cure is not worse than the virus.

Dennis Chung is the author of Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium. His blog is Email:

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