No room for complacency

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No room for complacency

Lance Neita

Sunday, April 05, 2020

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We are now well into the community phase of the advancing pandemic COVID-19. It only took one month, March, to drag us through the initial importation and cluster identification stages to reach where we are now. And if I read 'community phase' right, the direction which this pandemic will take depends to a large extent on the behaviour and response of the community.

As Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie has said, “What this means is that those persons who may have been undetected so far within the system, in terms of persons coming into the country and not being detected, or persons who may have travelled into areas of the country where you may have imported cases and gone into other areas of the country, will now start popping up, and it is difficult to identify who it is that they are linked with.”

And, indeed, the cases are popping up as the number of community cases now rival the number of those identified as cases brought into the country from more seriously affected countries.

So this is where we walk the thin line. It is inevitable that with community spread so difficult to control, or anticipate, we have to face up to the fact that the virus can now strike, not within any confined, quarantined, identified cluster, or from the importation that can be directly traced to country of origin, but right here, right beside you, next door, in your district, in your hometown.

Watch the spread on your television screens in other countries where people have carried the virus north, east, south, and west as they travel innocently from border to border across their own countries.

Now is the time that, no matter where you reside in Jamaica, you ought to be on watch, keeping a caring eye out for your spouse, your family, your neighbour, and yourself.

This is not a blame game. Looking for tell-tale signs of the virus and cautioning friends, advising them to call 888-ONE-LOVE is an act of caring and concern, not an act of disrespect or disdain.

But this is not just looking outward, it's looking inward as well. Each morning calls for a quick symptoms check and a thanks and praise to God if you feel all right. If truth be told, sometimes if you feel a little tickle in the back of the throat or a run in the nose, and you wonder, as the recovering overseas patient interviewed by Dionne Jackson-Miller said, “If a it now.”

Sorry, but this is how it is with us in these times, and that is the reality check. We have to give thanks if we are okay, but we must also show compassion for those who may test positive and, more than that, those who have lost loved ones, either here or abroad.

Unfortunately, the community stage also means, for some, the complacency stage. But we are learning fast that the community stage is serious business; is big man business. The medical experts have warned that in this stage there is bound to be an escalation of incidence, not in clusters, not from those who “came in last week”, but from what is swirling around us literally under our nostrils.

So we are in for the long haul. And we pray that we will be spared the normal pattern.

The prime minister has taken on the mandate of leadership and is not letting us down. He has been very much in charge, forthright and decisive.

Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton has taken on the responsibility for one of the heaviest burdens ever cast on a minister of government in the history of Jamaica and, as said earlier in this column, has shown “He is the right man in the right place at the right time.”

Our Chief Medical Officer Dr Bisasor-McKenzie is unflappable, courageous, precise. Her style is engaging, comforting, compassionate, and, most importantly, inspires trust.

These three have been leading the fight for Jamaica, supported by Cabinet Ministers, medical officers, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the police, as well as thousands of workers stretched to the max across the country. Altogether they have earned the confidence of the people they lead. I know people who say, following the daily press conferences last month, that “Wow, no matter the bad news reported, we feel better because this thing is in good hands.”

This is most encouraging, but there is no room for complacency. Our numbers are rising and we have, up to Thursday's report, lost three people to this enemy — three people too many.

Our medical services, hospitals, clinics, mobile units, and our thousands of indefatigable and courageous and dedicated medical workers are being strained to the limit and beyond. We owe it to them to give our full support and cooperation. We must pray for them without ceasing.

So often we can go to the Bible for references to situations in which God has come to the rescue of His people. Today we are being led to find comfort in the powerful Psalm 91, in which he assures us that if we come to Him for safety, he will protect and defend us.

We must pray that our people in the trenches will never give up, but that guided by wisdom from on high, they will continue to take actions they believe are in the best interests of Jamaicans at this time — never mind the high sounding legal opinions.

They must continue to give us the news in good times and in bad. The press conferences are impressive, both from the cross section of expertise on the podium as well as the high standard of communication and information delivered in a clear and professional manner.

And, by the way, what do you think of our sign language interpreter who attends at these press conferences and translates the proceedings for the deaf community?

She is a marvel to watch as her facial expressions mirror the messages being broadcast in a manner that is instructional not only to her audience, but also to us, the unimpaired, who are caught up with her professionalism. She is a trained and naturally gifted person who must be an inspiration to those who want to know how to do a good job and to do it well.

The Opposition, although picky at times, have given support with quite good ideas coming from their spokespersons in the health, education, and industry fields. It is so important at this time that both sides of the house refrain from political one-upmanship. Too often we have seen this raise its head on both sides. This must stop. One thing is certain, COVID-19 does not recognise People's National Party (PNP) or Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), green or orange. There is no time and no space in this war for silly political games and for scoring cheap political points. He who has ears to hear let him hear.

In the meantime, Jamaica has been coming together in a marvellous way to fight this battle. We are depending on every man to do his duty and to prove to the Miami Herald, the World Health Organization, the American Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia, and the whole world that we have the formula, even if not yet the vaccine, to do it right.

Community time is crunch time. We are beginning to see the deep-seated solid character of Jamaicans coming out, just watch those interviews on Dionne Jackson-Miller's programme with Jamaicans quarantined abroad; and, of those interviewed in the streets, those barbers and hairdressers, vendors, laid-off hotel workers, farmers, taxi operators, bartenders, teachers, students, shopkeepers, church members, prayer warriors, businessmen, sportspeople, food and drink manufacturers, craft workers, airport staff, police, media, the elderly, the young people, the labourers, Members of Parliament, mayors, councillors, the Diaspora.

The silent majority is speaking. They are the ones listed above who are standing up for Jamaica in this battle for survival. We see them on television every night setting examples of patience, endurance, optimism, and discipline. They speak with one voice, which says “It's hard on us, but we must obey the law, and we cannot let down Team Jamaica.”

And what about the careless, the complacent, the show-offs, the ones who refuse to comply. The prime minister too has spoken. Arresting them will be a last resort, but as we saw on television following the curfew on Wednesday night, if it has to be done, it will be done.

And what about the criminals, the murderers, how do they fit into the new Jamaica that is slowly emerging from this crisis. Now we can see the sharp divide; the abyss that exists between Jamaicans who fight for their country and those who fight down their country. Murder and mayhem have absolutely no place in this 2020 scenario. The gunmen have chosen to isolate themselves. Out of every evil will come some good. Who knows, perhaps the all-night curfew will prove to be the crime deterrent that we have been searching for.

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and author. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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