Holness has earned some COVID-19 credits


Holness has earned some COVID-19 credits

...Still the PNP says it has all the answers


Sunday, May 24, 2020

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The bird that calls out for rain is itself hit by rain. — Hausa proverb, Nigeria

Today is 76 days since the first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was confirmed in Jamaica. It was imported.

Recall, a Jamaican female who had travelled from the United Kingdom arrived in the island on March 4. She presented to the public health system on March 9 and was put in isolation.

Last week a press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness noted that nine Jamaicans had died from COVID-19. According to reports in the media these nine had underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc, and one, a four-year-old child, had cerebral palsy.

At the time of writing this column 171 Jamaicans had recovered from COVID-19. Twenty-seven were hospitalised.

Seventy-six days after many countries with great mountains of resources reported their first coronavirus case thousands of their citizens have succumbed to COVID-19, and thousands more have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

At the time of writing this article the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported 4,995,127 COVID-19 infections globally. A little less than 329,000 people in 188 countries have died, and just over 2,021,843 have recovered from the disease.

Look at the table and consider these frightening data also from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine I captured at the time of writing. These are not just numbers. They represent human beings.

Likkle, but wi tallawah

Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-trained pandemic expert, physicist, renowned systems scientist, and founding president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, has included Jamaica among 46 countries (as at May 19) which are doing “best in beating COVID-19”. Bar-Yam advises numerous global agencies and countries on the control and spread of pandemics.

Those who have donned the dingy paraphernalia required to chase political ambulances and hearses doubtless would not have seen this important bit of data. It can be found at www.EndCoronavirus.org. This is the full list: Albania, Andorra, Australia, Barbados, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Djibouti, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Holy See, Iceland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Niger, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

In the midst of tremendous fiscal, infrastructural, and human resource constraints, the Andrew Holness-led Administration has, for the most part, adroitly dispatched the devilish deliveries of COVID-19.

Once we apply dispassionate systems of assessment and measurement it becomes obvious that the Holness Administration has generally played a very positive knock with regards to the management of the novel coronavirus disease.

To use a cricketing metaphor, Captain Andrew Holness, ably supported in particular by ministers Christopher Tufton, Nigel Clarke, Kamina Johnson Smith, and Desmond McKenzie, have demonstrated some very decent running between the wickets. And, yes, I do recognise that metaphors, like all things in life, have their limitations. Anyways, Holness and his team have taken some calculated singles, twos, and threes that have kept the scoreboard ticking over appreciably.

At the beginning of the innings Holness's team did dispatch a few memorable fours. They also injudiciously missed a couple of bad balls, which I believe should have been dislodged for six.

I commented on those in two articles earlier this month.

In the post-lunch session, however, some amount of fatigue has become noticeable in the overall approach of the prime minister's team. Nonetheless, the general confidence level is very commendable.

Sure-footed leadership

In my The Agenda piece on March 8, 2020 I said, among other things: “I believe the effectiveness, or lack thereof, with which this Andrew Holness-led Administration manages the inevitable arrival of COVID-19 on our shores will weigh heavily on the outcome of the upcoming general election. If the Administration does a poor job, that could well turn out to be the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Achilles heel for which the People's National Party (PNP) desperately searches.”

“Andrew Holness is managing a crisis the shape and size of which no previous Jamaican prime minister has had to manage,” this important remark by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding was made in a radio conversation with veteran journalist Cliff Hughes, last Tuesday. Golding is spot on.

Of course, the Holness Administration has not got everything right. The reported inhumane treatment and death of Jodian Fearon was a very low point.

In my The Agenda piece on March 3, 2020, I noted, inter alia: “The hackneyed and predictable responses of speedy investigations, heads will roll, retorts, and banal calls for commissions of enquiry are now like gramophones pulled from an abandoned cellar long overtaken by cobwebs.

“The horrible death of Jodian Fearon should be a blot on our collective consciousness. I am not confident it is, or will be.

“In all likelihood there will be more Jodian Fearons. Why? We tolerate the awful conditions and weak institutions which foster these horrid recurrences.”

I stand by those comments.

The Holness Administration also dropped the ball with regards to this cock-up — 'Hospitals in breach — Embattled Andrews among private facilities operating without Gov't certification' ( The Gleaner, May 3, 2020) — albeit that much of what was revealed in the news item related to inherited problems.

On that sad episode, I noted, among other things: “Admittedly, the Administration has inherited many of the problems which were adumbrated by the Old Lady of North Street last Sunday.

“Nonetheless, the Holness Administration is at the wheel and must take responsibility.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 10, 2020)

Some aspects related to the lockdown of St Catherine parish, intended obviously to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, did reveal deficiencies in certain areas of planning and execution.

But, except for these drop ball instances, I believe the Holness Administration has demonstrated steadfastness, stick-to-it-iveness, and a kind of grit and conscientiousness that was not seen in the previous Portia Simpson Miller Administration, and the ones before that ill-fated vessel.

In my The Agenda piece on March 8, 2020 I noted that numerous studies had shown that the greatest error committed by governments during pandemics was that of lying to citizens. Verifiable evidence shows no instance in which the Holness Administration has been untruthful to the people of Jamaica in the management of this coronavirus crisis.

Once Holness and his team keep this record unblemished it will serve as a most valuable resource in our 18th parliamentary election, which I believe will be held in early February 2021.

Added to the ace of political frankness, Holness's unqualified apology for the logistical trip-ups, including rooming delays and allegations of substandard meals, was a delightful departure from the cover-ups, obfuscations, 'Jim-Screechy' reasoning and Anancy excuses which have been staples of previous administrations in times of crises.

I give the Holness Administration 7 out of 10 for their overall creditable management of the COVID-19 crisis and matters related.

Unimpressive net practice

In my The Agenda piece on March 8, 2020, I also said: “I think that if the Opposition PNP [People's National Party] misses the opportunity to demonstrate mature leadership when the coronavirus infection comes ashore, 89 Old Hope Road will succeed in further devaluing its political stocks.

“In fact, from a purely political perspective, when COVID-19 is confirmed in Jamaica, it will be an opportunity for the PNP to redeem itself from the disastrous mismanagement of the chikungunya [CHIKV] outbreak in 2014.”

The Opposition PNP has so far wasted a glorious opportunity to claw back some urgently needed political respect, which they squandered during the infamous 'dead babies scandal' and the severely costly CHIKV outbreak, which the previous Portia Simpson Miller Administration presided over.

Hundreds of Jamaicans are today still suffering from debilitating joint and related needle-like pricks made significantly worse by CHIKV. It is a national affliction.

Recall this woeful headline: '80% of Jamaicans were infected with CHIKV'. ( The Gleaner, September 6, 2018) It noted, among other things: “Yesterday, the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III confirmed the widely held speculation that more than half of Jamaicans were infected with the chikungunya virus when it swept across the island a few years ago.”

Under former Health Minister Fenton Ferguson's watch there was country-wide suffering, hardship, and pain. Our economy, conservatively, lost $7 billion and 13-million man-hours of production time, according to data from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

Interestingly, the PNP today has found an instant solution button for all Jamaica's problems. It pretends to have a silver bullet for the novel coronavirus crisis. Norman Manley's party would want us to believe that Jamaicans abroad who are desirous of returning home can be repatriated by the simple waving of a magic wand.

I believe the Government must democratically resist any and every attempt by the PNP to bully it into flights of fancy that will cost the people of this country dearly.

A few weeks ago some screamed that the actions of the Holness Administration bordered on a violation of our constitution. Some on social media said Prime Minister Holness was behaving like a star apple [extremely ungenerous]. Nevertheless, the Administration insisted that the 46 deportees, then soon to arrive, had to abide by certain protocols. After this banner headline: 'Deportee tests positive for COVID-19' appeared on Loop Jamaica, on April 28, 2020, many of those voices went silent.

Holness's response in Parliament was opportune: “As it relates to our obligations…Jamaica has ensured that we make a balance. We keep our obligations, but at the same time must protect the health of our citizens. In that regard, we insisted on ensuring that anyone we take into the island we test them. So all the persons who have been deported to Jamaica they have been tested and they have been placed in quarantine.” ( Loop Jamaica, April 28, 2020)

Then there were those who trumpeted that Jamaicans on the Marella Discovery 2 should be landed pronto. This while the Administration insisted that meticulous protocols needed to be followed. After this headline: 'Six ship workers 'isolated after positive COVID-19 tests' ', many developed political laryngitis. The news item noted: “Six crew members of the Marella Discovery 2 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus following their arrival in the island last week, one of the ship's workers informed Loop News. All six crew members who tested positive were reportedly whisked away to a separate facility Monday morning, sequestering them from the other Jamaicans presently in quarantine at a hotel in St Ann.” ( Loop Jamaica, May 11, 2020)

Consider this from a Ministry of Health and Wellness press conference last Wednesday: “The minister said of the over 120 individuals who have come in from the UK, 12 of these individuals have tested positive so far. He noted that all 12 are cruise members. This, Tufton said, is some 26 per cent of returning cruise ship workers who have tested positive for the virus.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 20, 2020)

This Bloomberg News item that was posted on May 18, 2020 should serve as a warning: “Over 100 million in China's north-east face renewed lockdown.” We must remain super vigilant.

I gather just under 10,000 Jamaicans abroad have applied to come home. Those who think that their repatriation can be achieved with a magical touch from the mythical King Midas are living in cuckoo land.

I urge the Holness Administration not to switch, or twitch, a single, solitary inch from its meticulous and incremental trajectory.

I believe today's PNP is an organisation devoid of bankable ideas, vision, and leadership. It is overpopulated with intellectual sluggards, political journeymen, and professional politicians who, like their “chairman emeritus”, Robert Pickersgill, are sold on the terrifying dictum: “We believe it is best for us to form the Government; therefore, anything that will lead us or cause us to be in power is best for the PNP and best for the country.”

I give the PNP 3 out of 10.

Eighty-nine Old Hope Road continues to fail to demonstrate that it is a viable alternative to this Administration. I believe it has adopted a largely obstructive and unhelpful approach as regard the novel COVID-19 crisis. We must “tek sleep mark death”.

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

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