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Has the COVID-19 fight burnt out the Government?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

For little over a year Dr Christopher Tufton, at the head of his team from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, soldiered valiantly to protect Jamaicans from the worst ravages of the novel coronavirus.

Indeed, the entire Government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness appeared to be seized with the enormity and urgency of the situation, and so fully engaged with the fight.

Even Dr Nigel Clarke, a kind of modern-day Scrooge, dug deep to make his contribution through his stimulus packages.

Now, however, while Dr Tufton is, ostensibly, still the face of the COVID-19 battle, the returns are increasingly diminishing.

Since January, the number of positive cases of the virus has skyrocketed, threatening to overwhelm the health service and creating doubt that the Administration is in control.

What is more worrying is that so many other countries, including Caribbean nations of smaller populations, have been getting the COVID-19 vaccines and started to inoculate their people, while Jamaica looks around, hungrily, without even a specific date as to when the vaccines will reach our shores.

There is always the possibility that Dr Tufton and his team are suffering burn-out. It has not been easy, as we have pointed out several times in this space.

Yet, there is also the suggestion of a dereliction of duty, which may also have to do with a loss of focus.

In our editorials we tried to warn about the need to keep a national eye on the vaccine situation. For example, on December 20, 2020, after Dr Tufton belatedly announced a COVID-19 Vaccine Commission, we wrote:

“We probably should have known better, but we in this space assumed that the Government had already put in place a body akin to what the Ministry of Health and Wellness announced this week as a National COVID-19 Vaccine Commission.

“As things stand, any country that has not taken a proactive, even aggressive approach to acquiring and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine could find itself at the back of the line as nations jostle and elbow each other to put their population in the best situation possible.

“Acquiring the vaccine in this first phase is already shaping up to be a royal scuffle because rich nations, according to a British Broadcasting Corporation dispatch, are hoarding doses of the COVID-19 vaccines at the expense of poor countries.”

We quoted a network of organisations reporting that the rich countries, with just 14 per cent of the world's population, had bought up 53 per cent of the most promising vaccines so far, enough to vaccinate their entire populations three times over.

“Dr Tufton's National COVID-19 Vaccine Commission has absolutely no time to spare,” we said. Clearly no one was listening.

Before that, on November 22, we reported the Pan American Health Organization as saying that delivering vaccines for COVID-19 “will be challenging and costly, so it is vital that countries start preparing now”.

And we added: “At the speed at which things are developing on the vaccine front, we don't have much time to, as Jamaicans on the street would say, lay-lay.”

Excuses like “community spread” won't cut it.