Rating the Government's handling of COVID-19

Rating the Government's handling of COVID-19

An Opposition statement for the ages

By Desmond Allen
Executive editor – special assignment

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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Almost five months after the Wuhan, China lockdown that signalled the beginning of COVID-19's vicious and merciless takedown of the world, Jamaica appears to have acquitted itself well in the fight to contain the novel coronavirus.

Some of the main personalities who have led the fight, both in Government and Opposition, scored high marks while some have dropped the ball. But a glance at the battering taken by better-resourced countries shows Jamaica has much to crow about.

The key statistic that tells the story of the country's success is naturally the number of deaths from COVID-19 — nine up to Jamaica Observer press time last night — when compared with the number of deaths per million of population globally.

Nine deaths in Jamaica means three per million of our population of three million people. And while no one celebrates even one death of a human being who is likely to be missed by a loving family, the comparison can inform how we assess the country's efforts in the biggest fight of our lives.

For example, Belgium — the country with the highest deaths per million — with a population of 11.42 million people, is experiencing 804 deaths per million, according to online market and consumer data provider Statista.

That compares with three deaths per million in Jamaica, a much poorer country with an inferior health care system. To take it closer to home, Ireland which has five million people — has lost 1,583 lives to the coronavirus, representing 326 deaths per million.

For the record, we are bombarded with frightening figures — over 1.6 million cases and more than 97,000 deaths — from our biggest trading partner and tourist market, the United States where almost every Jamaican has a relative or friend. But on closer examination, things may not be as bad as perceived, with 289 deaths per million.

Here in our country, we had, up to the time this article was being prepared, recorded 529 confirmed cases. The health and wellness ministry also told us that in the 24 hours leading up to that, 492 samples were tested — 193 of them being new samples and 299 were discharge samples.

“The 193 new samples tested for COVID-19 bring the total number of samples tested on the island to 9,021,” the ministry reported. “Of that 9,021, in addition to the 529 positives, there are 8,420 negatives and 72 pending.”

Importantly, in that same 24 hours, 26 additional Jamaicans recovered from COVID-19, putting the total number of recoveries at 171, up from 145 a day earlier, giving the island a recovery rate at 32.3 per cent, with no seriously ill cases.

In other words, we are doing very well up to this point. There is probably some bit of luck in that we could be benefiting from the BCG vaccine which Jamaican children get against tuberculosis, as well as a copious amount of vitamin D from the sun.

There is a strong view among scientists that the BCG, which we know we have received because of the scar it leaves on our left shoulder, is making us more immune to viruses. So strong is the belief that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pumping millions of dollars into research to determine how it could be used in the current fight against COVID-19.

The data support the point we have been making for some time now that the health authorities, and indeed the Government, have been doing a very good job of managing this crisis. While we accept that we are not yet out of the woods, we cannot ignore the effort and sacrifice made by the health care professionals, civil servants and the political directorate.

Now for the scores:

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has led a bruising battle against COVID-19, and though he could be dying his hair to conceal the stress, that cannot mask the hard work and cool leadership he provided for the ministry. He gets 8.5 out of 10.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has maintained a calm demeanour and the appearance of a commander-in-chief that has made his Government look good. He gets an 8 out of 10.

Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has helped to create a perception that while Jamaica is in a deep hole, we can dig ourselves out. The quick response of the International Monetary Fund in approving US$520 million in balance of payments support is a great sign of confidence. He gets 7 out of 10.

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw scores well because of the farmers' markets that mushroomed almost overnight across the island, suggesting that a new agricultural marketing strategy is in the offing. He gets 7 out of 10.

De facto Minister of Education Karl Samuda did not lose grip on his unwieldy education infrastructure and showed himself willing to fight for students in the CXC exam imbroglio. He also gets 7 out of 10.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, a man who usually keeps his cool, made an unusually bad slip by saying the Government could not “let loose” Jamaicans clamouring to come home on the rest of the population. He made up somewhat by not taking his eye off the crime ball. He gets 5 out of 10.

Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith lost points by rashly declaring that Jamaicans who were complaining about not being fed properly were not on “a luxury flight”. She gets 4 out of 10.

On the Opposition side, while the direct burden of the fight is not on them because they are not the Government, some personalities did particularly well in how they conducted themselves and should be mentioned.

Dr Morais Guy, the spokesman on health, kept Dr Tufton on his toes with consistently constructive criticisms. Spokeswoman on foreign affairs Lisa Hanna kept the focus on Jamaicans overseas who were catching hell.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips was conspicuous by his absence, possibly because he is recovering from illness. But he, like good leaders, stepped out of the way and allowed his portfolio spokespersons to do their job.

Spokesman on finance Mark Golding made a statement for the ages in announcing his party's support for Dr Clarke, after the finance minister outlined what he called the “double whammy” and the “most significant economic challenge” on May 13 — the $120-billion COVID-19 bill accompanied by the $81-billion revenue loss. Golding's statement is worth repeating:

“I don't think Jamaica has faced anything as shocking as this particular crisis has been; it has hit us in so many ways. And I think all Jamaicans want to see their leaders pulling together and co-operating.

“In the cut and thrust of adversarial politics it is sometimes difficult to maintain that. Certainly from the point of view of the Opposition, part of our job, our constitutional duty, is to keep the Government on its toes and to be rigorous in our criticisms where they are needed.

“But I think at this point in time we have and will continue to try to adjust our own approach to this with the national imperative of unity very much in mind. And we hope the Government will see it that way as well in their dealings with us.”

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