COVID-19 is no respecter of persons

COVID-19 is no respecter of persons

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, October 05, 2020

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Once more COVID-19 has reminded us that it is no respecter of persons. The most powerful man in the world, US President Donald Trump, has been hospitalised with the disease and there are conflicting stories about his condition and the date on which he was tested. Let us keep President Trump, his wife Melania, and indeed everyone who has been battling this terrible virus in our prayers.

Unfortunately, citizens of the US received mixed messages regarding the wearing of masks and social distancing, and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that, if this had been a nationwide mandate, the toll would have been about half of the over 200,000 people who have succumbed to the disease. We expect that after this experience, President Trump will join the scientists in promoting the life-saving protocols to help flatten their curve.

We in Jamaica are certainly not out of the woods, and we must do better with following the orders of the Disaster Risk Management Act. Even in the face of community spread we are learning from a Jamaica Observer report that bribes were being collected at one of our airports in exchange for not installing the COVID-19 tracker on the phones of individuals being processed on arrival. Further, police officers have been attacked in Kingston and in St Ann when they tried to lock down parties being held after curfew. What a disgrace in the face of our rising numbers of cases and deaths! I hope we can introduce an efficient ticketing system to penalise those careless people who are still refusing to wear masks.

Our economic challenges

You know the saying, “If America sneezes, Jamaica gets pneumonia.” This is a hard truth for tourism, as in last week's press conference held by the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), chaired by Keith Duncan, we learned that in the April-June 2020 quarter there was an 87.5 per cent downturn in earnings from hotels and restaurants. Duncan noted that the projections are assuming an upturn in tourism for the 2020-21 winter season. Indeed, I heard from a friend recently who is planning to spend almost the entire winter in Jamaica, perhaps trying to escape the double jeopardy of flu season in COVID-19 times.

As we see the fallout being suffered by restaurants, including fast food concerns which employ thousands of Jamaicans, we would like to endorse Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) President Richard Pandohie's call to extend our curfew hours to 10:00 pm. Those two hours could make a world of difference for restaurants, supermarkets, and other places of business.

It is remarkable that the 'safe corridor' designated by the tourism ministry has no COVID-19 hot spots. Recently Professor Peter Figueroa remarked that our hotels had been doing extremely well in observing protocols and encouraged the reopening of attractions which had done likewise.

The EPOC conference had some good news as well, as tax revenues and remittances have increased. Let us pause and say a prayer for those brave Jamaicans who are on the front line in the US battling the disease and ensuring that they send support for their families back home.

Duncan noted: “[I]f all of us as citizens diligently practise the infection control protocols and the GOJ [Government of Jamaica] continues its proactive and prudent macro fiscal management, along with its efforts in managing the spread and the impact of the novel coronavirus, we will give ourselves the best chance to see a sustained recovery of our economy, jobs, and businesses over time.”

Jeremiah Knightends Jamaica tour

After three years in Jamaica, Jeremiah Knight ended his dynamic tour as the US Embassy's counselor for public affairs on September 30. We congratulate him on his promotion to deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. His notable accomplishments during his tenure as the embassy's head of public affairs include programmes for women's empowerment, creating the Department of State's local chapter of the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs, and the embassy's Annual Women's History Month Grant Pitch Competition that awarded over US$300,000 in grants.

Jeremiah also collaborated with the Branson Centre to host rap sessions under the theme 'Journeys to Scale', promoting the exchange of ideas between key business leaders in Jamaica and the US to assist local entrepreneurs in expanding their concerns.

At a virtual farewell get-together last Monday, media leaders, Press Association of Jamaica President George Davis, broadcaster and lecturer Fae Ellington, and Office of the Prime Minister Press Secretary Naomi Francis acknowledged Jeremiah's promotion of investigative journalism, partnering with the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network.

Jeremiah, whose grandfather hails from Jamaica, is passionate about education. He established the Embassy's US Exchanges Alumni Association (Jamaica) and organised islandwide school tours with US Ambassador Donald Tapia, who has remarked on his joy in engaging with our beautiful Jamaican children.

He collaborated with bright young enthusiasts in a social media advisory group, created the embassy's Stakeholder Appreciation and Recognition Awards (SARA), and spearheaded the transformation of the embassy's Robeson American Center into a state-of-the-art technology space, facilitating specialised science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) clubs and a host of entrepreneurship programmes.

Despite his taxing schedule, Jeremiah found time to entertain his friends and colleagues with his amazing culinary creations garnered from his worldwide postings and enhanced by his unique flavours.

Walk good, Jeremiah, you will be missed, but we are proud of your ascent in the US diplomatic service.

Unforgettable Rheta Chen

Rheta Chen, beloved friend and fellow associate of the Sisters of Mercy, tried to prepare us for her departure, telling us that she was at peace and ready after an up-and-down illness with cancer over several years. However, when we heard of her passing last Thursday we were devastated.

If I were to describe Rheta metaphorically I would say she was that morning sun that warmed and nurtured us. Perhaps it was her first career in nursing that made her so caring and empathetic. Later she decided to study accounting and gave her skills freely to the Sisters of Mercy.

Rheta's strong sense of duty saw her ensuring that our Mercy Associates accounts were well managed, and that when we attended meetings of the Chinese Cultural Association we were refreshed. There was no sugar-coating of her opinions, so we could depend on her for frankness and constructive criticism.

Rheta and her husband, Professor Anthony Chen, were an inspiring couple, ever supporting each other's endeavours. They travelled the world together as Prof Chen, professor emeritus of physics at The University of the West Indies, spoke at conferences on climate change and had co-authored a publication for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with US Vice-President Al Gore.

We express deepest sympathy to Prof Chen, children Norman, Marsha, and Gail, and other family members for the loss of their beautiful Rheta. May her great soul rest in peace.

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