Lessons to be learned from COVID-19

Lessons to be learned from COVID-19

Donald Reece

Monday, April 06, 2020

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Many of the things we learn in life are usually stored somewhere in our cranium, and it is only when certain circumstances pop up that we might remember a particular lesson to make the connection with the present phenomenon. The scourge of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will not be soon dismissed because of the existential realities we had to undergo — curfew, insistence to stay at home, and to keep our social distance, not to mention loss of jobs or of loved ones.

But COVID-19 must not only be stored away in our memory, the experiences, both global and national, are calling for a complete overhaul of how we live our lives individually and how systems are put in place for a societal transformation that will handle similar or worse situations in the future.

In an article entitled 'Ja's chances against COVID-19', which appeared in The Sunday Gleaner of March 29, the author, Dr Alfred Dawes, alludes to a coming revolution in a previous article, not realising the impact COVID-19 would have not only on our little island State, but on the entire world. After citing how the virus has impacted upon certain aspects of our lives, the goodly doctor concludes: “We will survive this crisis, but we have to pull together as a country. If we can avoid the anarchy, it will be a wonderful opportunity to examine ourselves as a people.”

After citing the deficiencies that must be addressed — health, agriculture, national security, the political system, just to mention these — he writes words that must not be lost on any of us: “Now is the time we, as a people, must find the inner strength to peacefully overcome this challenge and work together to emerge stronger than ever, united in a single purpose.”

One of the lessons learnt from COVID-19 is that we are all threads woven together in the cloth of a common humanity. Each thread is important. Each person following the protocols prescribed to counter the virus is an important thread that will kick COVID-19 down the drain.

Having said that, the recent defiance against the curfew by some residents in Trench Town — which went viral as well as the subsequent apology rendered by the chief perpetrator — must not be lost on any of us, and more so on the authorities, as just sheer belligerence. We must see the underlying reasons for this defiance in the face of such a deadly virus. From the mouths of the defiant individuals we get an insight which we hope the Government and the Opposition also got. They ask: “How can we maintain social distancing when so many are crammed into a room meant only to lay one's head down at night?” This social condition is not only a Jamaican problem; it is worldwide.

An international news piece coming out of New York in the US headlined 'Coronavirus hits harder in poorer NYC neighbourhoods' caught my eye. It reads thus, “We know that in Queens, many families, because of poverty, live together in very close quarters. So that while we are practising as a city social distancing, you may have multiple families living together in a very small apartment. And so it's easy to understand why there's a lot of transmission of COVID occurring.” These circumstances exist in different forms right here in Jamaica. If this congested housing condition is not a recipe for anarchy or some sort of unhealthy revolution down the road, I don't know what is.

It's not a simple solution, for intertwined in the scenario is unemployment or underemployment that are linked to illiteracy and/or a lack of skills — all of which make our younger people, especially men, fodder for criminal gangs and other sociopathic behaviour.

Post-COVID-19 must see our political leaders on both sides of the divide giving some serious consideration to a “soft or velvet revolution” reminiscent of that in certain parts of the former Iron Curtain. A “soft revolution” would see us grappling with the aforementioned deficiencies enumerated by Dr Dawes, as well as this blaring inadequacy of housing. We can't limit ourselves to a matchbox type of housing for the poor and expect to have healthy social behaviour. At the same time, we cannot play the political game of entitlement. Coupled with housing must be strict regulations, lest we reproduce other social ills that do not bode well for the country.

A social revolution is needed, but it takes two to tango. Both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) leadership need to put aside the customary “us” and “them” one-upmanship posturing and put on the mantle of statesmanship, lest, not having learned the hard, cruel lessons taught by COVID-19, another disaster overtakes us “with our pants down” and egg on our faces.

Donald J Reece is Roman Catholic archbishop emeritus of Kingston. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or don.j.reece@gmail.com.

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