COVID-19 — We will never be the same

COVID-19 — We will never be the same

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, March 29, 2020

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A child who has no mother will not have scars to show on his back. — Hausa proverb, Nigeria

Like previous pandemics, the global outbreak of this novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) shall come to an end.

Like its brutal predecessors, it will leave a multifaceted legacy.

I have no crystal ball; however, I believe that the severe and very unpleasant consequences of COVID-19 will influence if not finally force some of us to re-examine the status quo strategies of economics, which have been a miserable failure globally. I don't believe such a process of global economic and political introspection will mean the death of capitalism as we know it, but it should inflict a further crippling blow to the intellectual fortress of those who pontificate that the autonomous character of the present global economic order is the only game in town.

Will the legacy of COVID-19 hasten the process of de-liberalisation and cause a resurgence of collectivism, or will it give rise to new approaches to geopolitical strategies that centre on the saving of lives? I suspect the answers to this question will be revealed sooner or later.

For now, though, the global economy is being ravaged by the unrelenting impact of the novel coronavirus. At the time of writing this article, the British Broadcasting Corporation ( BBC) had reported just under 470,000 COVID-19 infections globally. A little less than 22,000 people have died and just over 114,000 have recovered from the disease.

COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the world. The Economist magazine of March 21, 2020 published a most insightful article entitled 'Much of global commerce has ground to a halt'. It said, among other things: “The virus has destroyed US$23 trillion in global market value since mid-February. As governments curb citizens' activities — including much of commerce — in an effort to save lives, the ranks of corporate casualties are swelling. Fewer people are taking planes, hailing rides, eating out, staying in hotels, going to cinemas, or gathering just about anywhere. Most American and European sports leagues have been suspended. Formula 1 motor racing has ground to a standstill. Apple and Nike have closed most of their stores outside of China. Carmakers, including Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen, are shutting factories in Europe and America.”

Here at home up to 300,000 workers in the tourism sector are set to lose their jobs, albeit temporarily. Mining, manufacturing, and related sectors have been dealt a painful blow.

I am optimistic that we will rise from these setbacks. In previous times of great trials and tribulations we overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. We are a resilient people.

Forewarned?

The world was forewarned many years ago that a global pandemic would occur that would cause significant dislocation globally. American business magnate Bill Gates told us in 2015 that the globe was not ready for a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish Flu, and that “We need to get going with the preparations for the inevitable.” In his 2015 TED Talk, 'The next outbreak?', Gates forewarned that a worldwide flu epidemic would reduce global wealth by over $3 trillion. He cautioned that other pathogens existed that could spread more easily than Ebola. ( Business Insider, March 19, 2020)

The British Guardian newspaper, in a recent article titled 'Economists told us what a pandemic could do. Who listened?', noted this: “A World Bank paper on avian flus forecast that a severe outbreak would lead to a near 5 per cent fall in global GDP [gross domestic product], and double that in Europe. That work, done in 2006, seems much closer to where we are headed than almost all the forecasts done in 2020.” ( The Guardian, March 22, 2019)

And check this: “Upon leaving his post as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden was asked what scared him the most and kept him up at night. He answered, “The biggest concern is always for an influenza pandemic...[It] really is the worst-case scenario.”

So the tragic events of 100 years ago have a surprising urgency, especially since the most crucial lessons to be learned from the disaster have yet to be absorbed.” ( Smithsonian magazine, November, 2017)

For those who believe in paranormal pronouncements, the late self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne in her book End of Days, written in 2008, noted, among other things: “In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial and resisting all known treatment. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again 10 years later, and then disappear completely.” Sales of this book have surged recently.

The British Independent newspaper cautions those who might rush to swallow Browne's predictions without a pound of salt. It noted, among other things: “Browne, who had a cult following right up to her death in 2013, was known for making many predictions that went on to be proven false. Some of these related to cases of missing people. And in 2004 Browne told the mother of kidnapping victim Amanda Berry that her child was not alive, despite Berry being found alive in 2013. Her mother died believing she had been killed.” ( The Independent, March 15, 2020)

The mentioned newspaper also noted Center for Inquiry's Benjamin Radford debunking Browne's comments: “So what did Browne predict would happen sometime during those years?” Radford writes. “COVID-19 is not 'a severe pneumonia-like illness', though it can in some cases lead to pneumonia. Most of those infected (about 80 per cent) have mild symptoms and recover just fine, and the disease has a mortality rate of between 2 per cent and 4 per cent.”

Radford added: “[The second sentence] is false, at least as of now. COVID-19 has not 'suddenly vanished as quickly as it arrived', and even if it eventually does, its emergence pattern would have to be compared with other typical epidemiology data to know whether it's 'baffling'.”

The Bible, specifically Matthew 24:6-8, tells us that:

6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: See that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places.

8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Some argue that with all these warnings, some clearly more credible than others, the world should have been better prepared for this COVID-19 pandemic.

It makes no sense to cry over spilled milk. We need to learn from the mistakes that have been made and ensure that they are not repeated.

COVID-19 should also remind all of us that we are but mortal dust. The moment the egg unites with the sperm we joined the queue for dying.

Reasons for hope

The last three administrations pursued careful fiscal and monetary policies under the watchful eye of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This ensured that the 'run wid it' tragedy presided over by former Minister of Finance Dr Omar Davies during the P J Patterson years at the wheel was not repeated. As I said before in this space, the Jamaican people, through blood, sweat, and tears, are the real heroes of the recent successful completion of our IMF programme.

The last three administrations did put up some grain and meat in the economic storehouses. I don't think the starvation in the land, which some on social media are predicting for reasons best known to them, will materialise. I sense that those who are forecasting weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth for Jamaicans and the world economy will be sorely disappointed. I believe the damage by COVID-19 will be significant, but very temporary.

These developments do not support those who are shouting that COVID-19 will cause the skies over Jamaica and the rest of the world to fall.

Headline: 'COVID-19 bailout — Clarke tells how Gov't will help workers, small businesses'.

The news item said among other things: “Clarke, in closing the 2020/21 Budget Debate at Gordon House in downtown Kingston, said under the Administration's COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) programme thousands of waiters, waitresses, bartenders, gardeners, room attendants, drivers, caregivers, security guards, office attendants, and clerks, among other categories of workers who are the backbone of the hotel, attraction, tour, and restaurant industries, will receive assistance.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 25, 2020)

The Economist article mentioned earlier itemised these facts on the matter of stimulus rescue efforts by two of our major trading partners. It said inter alia: “Governments are rushing in to ensure that as many as possible do. Britain this week unveiled a 330 billion ($382 billion) package of loan guarantees and other support for businesses. America's Federal Reserve earlier said it would create a new funding facility to provide liquidity to American issuers of commercial paper. President Donald Trump has called for $1 trillion in economic stimulus.” ( The Economist, March 22, 2020)

Quarantine and penalties

Too many of our citizens are ignoring social distancing rules, hygiene regimen, quarantine and related lockdown orders. When I was a boy in rural St Mary, my grand kin sometimes scolded me with these wise words: “If you cyaan hear you will feel.” Those who callously and recklessly ignore the Government's COVID-19 regulations, intended to prevent runaway rates of infections and preserve the health and safety of all Jamaicans, put all of us in harm's way. Their irresponsible actions must be tamed with the full force of the law.

Last Tuesday, India, the world's largest democracy, put its just over 1.3 billion people under lockdown. Some 2.7 billion people are in lockdown globally, according to the BBC. Jail time, deportations, and severe fines are just a few of the ways in which governments around the world are dealing with people who flout quarantine and related regulations.

Note these examples:

• In the United Arab Emirates, those who fail to follow mandatory 14-day quarantine can face imprisonment of up to five years.

• In Australia people can be fined up $25,000 for disobeying the country's public health orders.

• In Norway, those found breaking isolation rules can be fined up to $ 2,000 or jailed for 15 days

• In France there are hefty fines for those who breach health regulations.

• In Spain people are arrested if they breach health rules.

• In Germany, those who breach quarantine orders face both prison sentence and fines reaching into thousands of Euros.

We are in a race against time to save life and limb. Up to last week Thursday COVID-19 deaths in Italy were just over 8,000, just under 4,000 in Spain, 2,000 in Iran and 1,400 in France. The BBC reported last Tuesday that the Italian authorities had to be using some ice cream parlours as morgues. The situation is grim.

Some folks here in Jamaica seem not to realise that we don't have time to audition for the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot “linga”.

The Old Lady

I grew up reading The Gleaner. A thorough read of its Sunday edition was de rigueur. It was like a religious act, for folks, especially in the rustic parts from which I hail. I remember I would walk to Highgate square early every Sunday morning to buy a Gleaner. I particularly loved reading Morris Cargill and John Hearne. Carl Wint's Leminotep, was another of my favourites. I don't recall, if he appeared in the Sunday or weekly edition. Those were the days!

The last time I bought a physical copy of The Gleaner was July, 2013, then its tag-line was: “The leader in credibility.”

I say this with no schadenfreude: The reality is the Old Lady of North Street is a shell of her former self. I believe her decline has been especially rapid over the last three years.

Last Sunday's cock-up was the most recent vicious uppercut to decades of sound journalist traditions at 7 North Street.

The late, great Professor Aggrey Brown taught us at CARIMAC (Caribben School of Media and Communication), at The University of the West Indies, Mona that, “When you get it wrong,” admission of same must be immediate and an apology must follow minus qualifications.

Some at The Gleaner seem very reluctant to accept that simple and time-honoured tradition. Choosing to be wrong and strong is weakness personified.

I am optimistic The Gleaner will find the internal resources to do the required introspection and rebranding to be great again. The pillars of the local Fourth Estate are stronger when the former grand Old Lady of 7 North Street is in sound health.

I venture to assert that our democracy is stronger when The Gleaner is in tip-top form. I genuinely wish for the Old Lady of 7 North Street, a speedy recovery.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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