Let's face Independence 58 on our feet, not on our knees


Let's face Independence 58 on our feet, not on our knees

Thursday, May 28, 2020

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In just a shade over two months' time Jamaica will mark its 58th anniversary of political independence. The million-dollar question is: Will Independence Day find us cowering on our knees to COVID-19 or on our feet and fighting back?

Out of the multiple crises which have afflicted us over the many decades, the Jamaican spirit has held firm; battered, bloodied, and bruised, but unbowed. The uncanny ability to survive the worst ordeal is indelibly, inextricably written in our DNA.

We recall historic disasters such as the 1692 earthquake which struck Port Royal on June 7, causing most of the city to sink below sea level; and the 1907 earthquake which damaged every building in Kingston, set off fires that killed an estimated 1,000 people, and left material damage estimated at $823.18 million in 2019 dollars; and more recently the September 12, 1988 Hurricane Gilbert, a category three monster that flattened Jamaica.

Jamaica is the third-most exposed country in the world to multiple hazards, with over 96 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and population at risk from two or more hazards, according to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

The Jamaican spirit has been tempered in that boiling cauldron of desperate poverty, exacerbated by catastrophic natural events impacting livelihoods, destroying infrastructure, and disrupting the provision of essential services, all too frequently. COVID-19 is only the latest.

As fearsome as this novel coronavirus is, it must not be allowed to break our spirit. Let us take heart from the US Virgin Islands, which has just decided it will not bow to COVID-19 but will reopen its doors to leisure travellers on Monday, June 1, 2020.

The territory's Commissioner of Tourism Joseph Boschulte announced that they are finalising public health and tourism protocols for the return of visitors in less than a week's time.

They are not being reckless, because a state of emergency occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in effect through July 11, 2020.

“We did not want to rush to reopen… Instead, we have engaged in data-driven, risk-based analysis, in conjunction with the Virgin Islands Department of Health and federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other stakeholders,” said Mr Boschulte.

The Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has prepared a comprehensive master document on health and safety that provides specific guidance to all tourism stakeholders. It will be frequently updated to reflect anticipated guidance updates.

There are procedures for operating reception and concierge facilities; cleaning and housekeeping; managing dining rooms; and providing technical and maintenance services. There is also specific subsector guidance for taxi, van, safari, and limo services; restaurants and bars; and accommodation.

The private-public partnership and multi-agency approach that crafted the new health and safety protocols, along with the commitment of the people of the US Virgin Islands, would assure visitors that the territory's decision to open its doors next week is the right one, said Commissioner Boschulte.

Jamaicans must view COVID-19 as just another obstacle to be overcome with the same determination and audacity that won us our Independence and sustained us since.

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