Haste does make waste, but no excuse for inaction

Haste does make waste, but no excuse for inaction

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Haste and hurry can only bear children with many regrets along the way. — Wolof proverb, Senegal

Many of us who grew up especially in rural Jamaica frequently had our parents or other relatives caution us with this axiom: “Haste makes waste.” In the midst of what many virologists and other experts say is the worst pandemic in the last 100 years we would do well to remember the meaning of this adage.

In relation to the management of coronavirus infections and COVID-19, we have seen some hair-raising instances internationally of administrations cutting corners evidently to suit political agendas. We must strenuously prevent this terrible state current from taking a foothold on our shores. We must also resist the temptation to do things perfunctorily, such actions often result in very bad consequences. The cutting of corners and/or allowing politics to trump [pun intended] science, in addition to common sense, has never halted any pandemic.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration will be dead in the water if takes that route.

Fayval gets a 'ticky'

Fayval Williams, the newly minted minister of education, youth and information, has shelved her ministry's initial recommendation for face-to-face instructions come October 5. Accessing lessons virtually, through the ministry's online learning management system, free to air television, radio, and related modalities, make sense. Those who are fuelling the idea of face-to-face classroom engagements for this school term need to understand that up to last Thursday Jamaica recorded an additional COVID-19 death and 193 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 5,558 and COVID-19-related deaths to 77.

They might have forgotten also that hundreds of our children, especially in rural Jamaica, live with grandparents and or other elderly kin. Given the rapid increase in coronavirus infections, I think we would have cancelled out many months of commendable and successful work to protect especially our senior citizens had Jamaica returned to face-to-face instructions in the midst of a community spread, which the Administration declared just over two weeks ago.

There is a clear and present danger in attempting to achieve a pre-COVID-19 normal too soon. In an earlier article I discussed how deaths skyrocketed during the 1918-20 Flu Pandemic because political authorities in some American cities ignored science. They attempted to return to 'normal' far too soon. Hundreds died. Some health experts contended then, and now, that these were preventable deaths. Information which has been released into the public domain over the last 50 years, which I referenced in two previous columns, indicate that the health experts were and are correct. We should not cause history to repeat itself, 100 years later.

A fact which cannot be successfully hidden under a bushel is the huge deficit in public transportation services across the country. A majority of education stakeholders throughout Jamaica are transported to and from school by various modes of transportation, typically packed buses and taxis. Many transport operators/owners often overload their vehicles in order to break even. The potentially dire implications in the midst of a community spread are obvious.

Some who would prefer to bury their heads in the sand and simultaneously ignore the lessons of previous pandemics may be alerted by present scientific realities.

Last week I read an article entitled 'Here's how long the virus typically lasts on common surfaces'. It was published by the Cleveland Clinic, one of the most respected hospitals/medical research centres in the world. It noted, among other things: “Here's how long the virus typically lasts on common surfaces, but it can change depending on sanitation efforts, sunlight, and temperature:

• Glass – five days

• Wood – four days

• Plastic and stainless-steel – three days

• Cardboard – 24 hours

• Copper surfaces – four hours

It's important to note that the amount of live virus decreases over time on surfaces. So the risk of infection from touching something that had the virus on it for a few days (or even a few hours) would lessen the risk.” ( www.clevelandclinic.org)

Our return to pre-COVID-19 normal has to be guided by accurate scientific information. Our shared social and cultural realities are important too. Thousands of our children have not physically seen their teachers and classmates for nearly eight months. Let us imagine that even 200 of the nearly 1,000 schools across the country had returned to face-to-face instruction in the midst of a community spread. It would have been impossible for teachers and students to avoid predictable camaraderie.

The decision by the Administration to abandon face-to-face instructions for the present time is a win-win for all education stakeholders. The reality is we are all on a tightrope. No one has the right of way with COVID-19.

Minister Williams, in my humble view, has not lost any political credit by listening and pivoting. That is what sensible leaders do. The representatives of the teachers, parents, and other stakeholders championed a strong and successful lobby. That is good! We are in a democracy and that is how democracies are to function.

Vaccine needed!

I believe that, ultimately, an effective and safe vaccine is required if we are to return to pre-COVID-19 normal. Many virologists and related experts say that creating a vaccine is a glacial-like pursuit. Creating an effective and safe vaccine, according to some experts, typically takes 10 years. That model is being challenged at this very moment. Ten of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies are literally racing to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. They are attempting to produce an effective and safe vaccine in under two years. Those who are terrified by this paradigm shift need to realise that scientific know-how has improved by leaps and bounds in the last 100 years.

I think this is good news: “Washington, United States ( AFP) — Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it was entering the final phase 3 stage of its COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial following positive results in earlier stages” ( Jamaica Observer, September 23, 2020)

Globally, others — for reasons which are quite evident — have been trying to cut corners in the life and death race for a viable vaccine. Again, history has taught us that haste makes waste. During World War II a yellow fever vaccine developed by the US was contaminated with Hepatitis B. “About 10 per cent of the soldiers who were vaccinated against yellow fever actually got Hepatitis B and were flat on their butts for weeks at a time. There were also some deaths, says Arthur Allen, the author of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver.”

A very interesting article in The National Interest publication of August 1, 2020, with the headlined 'Four Times in History Vaccines Failed (Lessons for a Coronavirus Vaccine?)', delivered this insightful data: “In the 1955 Cutter Incident, some batches of polio vaccine given to the public contained live poliovirus — even though they had passed the required safety testing.

“More than 250 cases of polio were attributed to vaccines produced by one company, Cutter Laboratories.

“The mistake resulted in many cases of paralysis, and the vaccine was recalled as soon as new cases of polio were detected. Children treated with one type of vaccine in the 1960s developed an enhanced form of the disease, often suffering from high fever, bronchopneumonia and wheezing.”

As well, in 2017, the Philippines stopped a school-based dengue fever vaccination programme after reports of complications and several deaths linked to the product called Dengvaxia.

Anti-vaxxers, doomsday cultists, superstition freaks, and some religious fanatics will doubtless shout, “See that is why we need to walk wide of vaccines.” That is foolhardy.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, since 2011, vaccines have averted 23.3 million deaths from disease worldwide. Clearly the benefits outweigh costs. I declare that as soon as a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 is approved by the relevant global authorities and made available to the general public I am prepared to be the first volunteer to receive it.

Some among us, owing maybe to voluntary ignorance, end of the world obsession-type motivations, variant forms of fanaticisms or a combination, seem hell-bent on enabling the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in our country. We simply cannot continue to ignore life-threatening behaviours which are seemingly predicated on a death wish. Our legislators must act now.

All of us have to ramp up physical distancing, correct wearing of prescribed masks, personal and public sanitisation, and community education.

While we await a vaccine, a national effort is needed if we are to beat back a community spread of COVID-19. This is not the season for useless bravado about who is the greatest in the kingdom. We must focus on preserving lives and livelihoods.

Nicholson has a point

This headline triggered a lot of discussion last week: ' 'Dissing' of Portia caused electoral tsunami, says AJ Nicholson'. ( Jamaica Observer, September 18, 2020) The news item noted, inter alia: “The 'electoral tsunami' unleashed on the People's National Party (PNP) in the general election was caused by the 'disrespectful treatment' of former president and prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, A J Nicholson said yesterday.

“Nicholson, officer emeritus of the PNP, also warned that 'no peace or blessing' would come to the party until it had apologised, atoned for, and sought redemption for that sin against Simpson Miller.

“ 'No blessings will attend and flow to the People's National Party until there is a positive answer to a plea for forgiveness for the unkind display of ingratitude toward Sista P, and only after a curse that has germinated and grown to full bloom has been exorcised,' Nicholson charged in a statement.”

Nicholson, by his own declaration, seems to have some insight into matters related to curses. He may very well have a peculiar gift, which most folks, me included, do not have. He has come in for quite a bit of verbal flogging and vituperation on social media since his pronouncements. I will not join the public pummelling.

As a general rule, I do not believe in hitting a person when he is on the floor, emotionally or otherwise. I think Nicholson, a former minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade and senator in the Portia Simpson Miller Administration, might have been overpowered by the sheer weight of the wipe-out which the PNP suffered in our recently concluded 18th parliamentary election. Nonetheless, he did make one point divorced from suggestions of the paranormal which is borne out by evidence: “There has to be that long-overdue apology, atonement, and seeking after redemption for the uncalled for disrespectful treatment that was meted” to Portia Simpson Miller. Recognised polls have found on several occasions that many PNP supporters are very uncomfortable with the unceremonious manner in which Prime Minister Portia Simpson was dislodged from the erstwhile lofty perch of the presidency of the PNP.

Recall, too, that in my The Agenda piece of April 7, 2019 I wrote among other things: “I picked up that the disrespect that was meted out to former president of the PNP and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during the twice-failed bid of Dr [Peter] Phillips to lead the party has left a sour taste in the mouths of many a Comrade in Portland Eastern.”

Forget the bit about curse and needing to be exorcised, otherwise Nicholson is on to something.

I agree with him that the PNP needs to apologise to Simpson Miller.Mea culpas are also needed from the top leadership of the PNP for the many misdeeds and atrocities committed by that party. Failure to do so will only speed up the multiplication of certain negatives in the minds of hundreds of voters.

Mario Deane

I have tremendous respect for Mercia Fraser, the mother of Mario Deane, the St James resident who was beaten to death while in custody at Barnett Street Police Station in the parish in 2014. Recall Deane, a 31-year-old construction worker, was taken into custody by the police for being in possession of a ganja spliff. While in custody he was severely beaten. He was taken to Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James with severe injuries to the head. He died three days later.

For the last six years Mercia Fraser, members of her family, and friends have been diligent in their lobby against a system which often moves at the rate of molasses up a steep hill in relation to the Mario Deanes of this country. On every anniversary of her son's death, Fraser leads a peaceful gathering outside the Barnett Street Police Station. I wish we had many more people like her in this country.

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

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