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Enduring short-term pain for long-term gains in fighting COVID-19


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Let us be frank, Jamaica is now more threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic than it was in the early days of March into April. Since the Emancipendence holidays into the election the country has seen a worrying increase in the number of people being infected and dying from the virus.

People are still saying that the election should not have been called. But the question still remains as to when was there a good time to call the election? Between October and December, January, or by the constitutional extension of three months after February when it would have been due? Who knows what the viral spread would have been during those months, especially in the winter when the flu season would be upon us and these two cousins “knock head” to give our lives hell.

When the election was announced on August 11, new cases for that day were eight, with total cases being 1,031. It continued in double figures below 40 until August 24, when 116 cases were reported with the number of cases being 1,529. The point is, at the time of the announcement we had not started to see a real spike in the virus. The Government might have felt comfortable to call it then. It was 13 days after that we registered the first triple figure daily cases of people reported to have the virus.

At this point, the increase was clearly due to the Independence holidays. It is also clear that the spike we are seeing now is a result of the election activity, starting with nomination day and going up to the point of voting. These statistics ought to be borne in mind when towards the end of September we use the rising numbers of infection to judge what the situation was over a month before.

Anyway, that is behind us and we now have to deal with the greatest existential threat presented by the virus. The country will now have to return with more vigour and resolve to the protocols that obtained from early March into April. The standard protocols should be well known by this —wearing masks, physical distancing, using hand sanitisers, and washing hands frequently. By the way, masks have to be worn smartly. I have seen people with the mask below their nose or chin or hanging from their ears like a bat wing while walking in the public. You cannot have your mask on and fidget with it constantly, transmitting germs that may be on your hand to the mask. I know, because I too am tempted to lift my mask and scratch my nose, especially when a hair tickles my nose. This is one of the reasons I do not wear a moustache at this time. If you are in a group of people, or even talking to one person, if both of you pull down your mask for a brief moment of jocularity or light-heartedness the virus is likely to be passed if one person has it. I believe this is how it has been transferred, where a number of people may feel a moment of levity and feel a need to temporarily remove the mask. It is not enough to simply wear a mask; one must be smart in wearing it.

Testing and contact tracing must become more pronounced. I cannot see a total lockdown of the economy as this will have more serious consequences for people's livelihood than might be anticipated. From the recent spike, I cannot see a reopening of schools for in-person learning by October 5. The Government may well have to bite the bullet and continue with digital learning for the rest of this year. I understand the argument of the mental health of students, but consider this against the number of children who may come down with the virus, get sick, and perhaps die. This is also true of the teachers and other ancillary staff at the schools. When our hospitals get overwhelmed, will we have the resources to deal with this? I would urge caution and let it be useful ally at this point.

We must look at our borders and ensure testing of visitors, both returning residents and tourists. I get the argument of the tourist industry being affected, but we must ensure that the best protocols of keeping the virus out of the country be observed. If push comes to shove, as they say, the Government must not hesitate to return to the protocols that obtained from March into April. There may not be the need for a national shutdown of the economy, but if this becomes necessary to save lives in the short term, what other remedies do we have?

With community spread, and the virus obviously all over the country, it is very difficult to identify hot spots of virus infections to contain them. It is the health of the people of Jamaica that has to be the paramount consideration at any given moment. We have to continue to endure short-term pain until we have the long-term gains for which we all should be working.

With this in mind, people must realise that the containment of the virus is as much their responsibility as it is the Government's. There is no point beating upon the Government and the health authorities that they are not doing a good job in stopping the virus while citizens go about their business with a spirit of nonchalance, as if it is no longer present in the country. The Government can beg and beseech as much as it wants, but if people don't get it in their heads that they must wear their masks when in public spaces and buildings, and observe the physical distancing rules, no amount of bleating on its part will work. This is the cold-heart truth that must be hammered into people's heads. Neither the Government nor the people can afford to be fatigued at this time. If we grow tired of fighting the virus, because fighting it has become too inconvenient, the virus will continue to spread. Tiredness and complacency are the twin vectors for viral spread of a virus as contagious as this one. Vigilance, patience, and a good dose of humility in observing the protocols are the best chances we have of subduing this virus.


Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or