Sad signs of the COVID-19 times

Sad signs of the COVID-19 times

...and signs of yesteryear

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, October 18, 2020

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Those who are born on top of the anthill take a short time to grow tall. — Ashanti proverb, Ghana

PRE-EXISTING economic and social conditions of some of our most vulnerable are being worsened. Some 35,000 of our countrymen were not able to collect grants disbursed by the Government several months ago. We are told that a lack of formal identification is one of the reasons for this awful reality.

A fit-for-purpose national identification system (NIDS) would render issues like this a thing of the past. Yet some, because of religious fanaticism, superstitious claptrap, voluntary ignorance, and other curious preoccupations, strenuously oppose its implementation.

I respect the democratic rights of all to express their opinions and lobby for acceptance of those opinions, but I do not accept that a handful of people have the right to thwart an entire society's progress because they are mentally and otherwise trapped in a Luddite-like era. We have been literally tiptoeing around NIDS for 40 years. This has resulted in disfigured feet.

These details of the mentioned situation should have disturbed the sleep of all well-thinking Jamaicans.

“Of the allocation made by the ministry under the CARE [COVID-19 Allocation of Resources to Employees] Programme, 25,000 persons have not collected from the banks, while 10,000 applicants have yet to collect their money from remittance companies.

“Asked why the applicants had not collected their money, [John] Thompson [manager of the CARE Programme] said, 'We don't know.' However, the committee was later informed that the 25,000 bank accounts into which sums had been paid for beneficiaries were 'invalid'.

“ 'Part of the uncollected 10,000 are persons who don't have a formal identification,' he said.

“Thompson told members of the PAAC [Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee] that the CARE Programme has shown up the infrastructure deficit in the country.

“The finance ministry has since recovered the sums from the remittance companies and banks.” ( The Gleaner, October 9, 2020)

Those 35,000 are hardly my business, some may say. They are wrong!

Recently, the World Bank released a report which warned of the precipitous plunge of the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

“It says the LAC is the region hardest hit by the virus, casting a spotlight on the need to protect the population while putting economies back on track.

“The Washington-based financial institution says the economies of the region are suffering from lower foreign demand, increased economic uncertainty, a collapse of tourism and the consequences of months under lockdown to try to contain the spread of the disease.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 9, 2020)

In recent months the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and related organisations have been urging countries to strengthen their safety nets to limit the inevitable fallouts brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

When some of the very neediest among us cannot access the kind of help available via the CARE Programme, for example, it means the already dire consequences of the pandemic are being rapidly exacerbated for those at the bottom.

Hurdle ahead!

Increases in social and economic inequalities do not benefit anyone. It is in all our interests for the Jamaican economy to regain its pre-COVID-19 buoyancy at the earliest. However, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that pre-COVID-19 normal is just around the corner.

Some virology and related experts say an effective vaccine is likely to be ready for approval by the end of this year and distribution, they say, should become possible by early to mid-2021. The rich countries of the globe will doubtless make the vaccine(s) available to their populations first. The reality is, “Parson christen him pickney fuss,” as we say in local parlance. (Individual interest takes precedence.)

Recently, I listened to a programme on the British Broadcasting Corporation ( BBC) that centred on the spread of the coronavirus and the prospects for a viable vaccine. Among other things, it was noted that, “A vaccine won't be a magic wand.” One expert noted that the regimen of dedicated hand washing, wearing of a prescribed mask, and social distancing will likely have to continue “for a while yet”, because a vaccine might initially only protect us from developing COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus infection. He also noted that the vaccine might only be 70 per cent effective at the outset. This he said would mean that seven of every 10 people who roll up their sleeves will be protected, but three will not. We might not return to a pre-COVID-19 normal until mid- to late 2022, the panellists agreed.

Another expert noted that there will have to be a “pecking order” for the vaccination of populations across the world. She stated that, even if manufacturers have all the glass bottles, syringes, and other products required to make millions of doses, “Some people will have to wait a while before they get vaccinated.” Health care workers will be first in line, then people with medical conditions that put them at highest risks if they get the virus, next people living in nursing homes and related environments, then average adults who are healthy. She noted that, globally, people need to pay special attention to when and where they are scheduled to receive the vaccine. People cannot afford to “miss their turn”, she submitted.

The panellists agreed that: “Great patience,” on the part of all, will be critical, because there are going to be “significant hiccups with distribution.”

I think this Administration, specifically the Ministry of Health and Wellness, front line workers, and indeed all stakeholders have a lot of work ahead. A viable vaccine will signal half of an important journey. We must complete the entire trek if we are to get back to a pre-COVID-19 social and economic normal.

I hope we will soon start the required preparations, including comprehensive community/public education. Proactive implementation of workable strategies to prevent or at least significantly minimise the inevitable problems that accompany the distribution of scarce resources is crucial.

An effective vaccine will mean the difference between life and death for millions worldwide. We cannot close our eyes to the reality that our society is tightly divided along social, economic, and political lines, wherein those who have ready access to especially high-valued and or scarce resources are often the very well-connected. Those who reggae legend Bob Marley said “nuh have no friend in high society” often end up getting the very short end of this stick.

If the distribution of a vaccine is botched by the Andrew Holness-led Administration, that mistake will become the poisoned political equivalent of the Portia Simpson Miller Administration's mishandling of the chikungunya (CHIKV) epidemic in 2014-15.

Recall, Dr Fenton Ferguson, as minister of health, and the People's National Party (PNP), made inadequate preparations for the arrival of CHIKV. He was stoutly defended by then prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

Even with a bountiful 49 of 63 seats in Parliament, Prime Minister Holness should not bank on playing a similar card. It is moribund. Times have changed.

As the global tectonic plates of change shift, we in Jamaica have to ensure that we are not completely swallowed up by the aftershocks. Mismanagement of the distribution of a vaccine is preventable. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

Crisis management

Has Africa dodged the COVID-19 bullet? On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a global health crisis. Up to mid-March China was stamped as the epicentre of coronavirus infections. At the time, Italy, South Korea and Japan reported surging infections. Jamaica confirmed its first case on March 10, 2020. It was imported.

As the coronavirus infections spread exponentially across the developed world, their health systems buckled under the pressure. A BBC news item noted that people were dying so fast in Italy, for example, that some ice cream parlours had to be used as temporary morgues. In the richest country in the world, the United States of America, some hospital morgues ran out of spaces and refrigerated trucks were turned into mortuaries. Of course, no hospital service, no matter how robust, can withstand the strain of a pandemic. Just like a bank, if there is a run on its services it will sooner than later crumble.

I remember a report on CNN which noted that makers of body bags in the USA had great difficulty satisfying demand because of the COVID-19 crisis. In Ecuador bodies were left on the streets because hospitals were overwhelmed. Health services in Brazil, Peru, and Chile all but collapsed.

Some experts said from as early as mid-March 2020 that they were fearing the worst for the 54 countries on the African continent, given the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the health systems of the developed economies. Their dire predictions, even in the midst of the present deadly second wave of infections, have not materialised. Why?

On October 7, 2020, the BBC published a most interesting article entitled 'Coronavirus in Africa: Five reasons why COVID-19 has been less deadly than elsewhere'. It said inter alia:

“Many African countries have been praised for waging an effective campaign to combat the spread of coronavirus, despite their reputation for having fragile State health systems.

“The continent, which has a population of more than one billion, has had about 1.5 million cases, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.

“These figures are far lower than those in Europe, Asia or the Americas, with reported cases continuing to decline.

“Africa has recorded about 37,000 deaths compared with roughly 580,000 in the Americas, 230,000 in Europe, and 205,000 in Asia.

“ 'The case-fatality ratio (CFR) for COVID-19 in Africa is lower than the global CFR, suggesting the outcomes have been less severe among African populations,' noted a recent continental study by Partnership for Evidence-based Response to COVID-19 (PERC), which brings together a number of private and public organisations.”

What are some of the reasons for Africa's relatively low death rate? The mentioned article discussed five:

• quick action

• public support

• young population and few old-age homes

• favourable climate

• good community health systems.

I think we in Jamaica could learn more than a few things from Africa's management of COVID-19. We should learn from all who have something worthwhile to teach.

In that vein, please consider this: “But Wuhan has not had a local coronavirus case since mid-May, and about 9.9 million people in the city have been tested for the virus. There are no bans in place on large gatherings.” ( BBC, August 18, 2020)

It was reported that the novel coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, spread to many parts of China, and then to the rest of the globe. Why has China recovered so fast? Straightaway some are going to say, well, China is a communist country and they have used authoritarian measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. I don't think it is as cause and effect as that. There are authoritarian states that have not had the reported successes of China.

Caribbean economies must find ways to become more resilient in the midst of this pandemic. Knowledge is key to achieve that objective.

Those troublesome statues

'Remove statues of racist Mahatma Gandhi in Jamaica and everywhere in the Diaspora'. This is the title of an interesting piece in the online publication Face2face Africa dated October 10, 2020. The heated debate on what should be done with statues that celebrate colonial hegemony rages on. Some have said they should be placed in museums and used, among other things, as part of our tourism offerings. Others opined that the colonial relics should be torn down and dumped into the Caribbean Sea.

The statues are a constant reminder of untold misery. They celebrate a false narrative, some posit. For this and related reasons some submit that those which can should be melted and used to build monuments to honour the real history of especially enslaved peoples.

India, some 50 years ago, quietly removed colonial statuary and put them in a park, some Indians say graveyard. That, too, is an option. I like this suggestion.

Some say the removal of colonial statues are a waste of time. They say it is not a “bread and butter issue”. I disagree! A people's history, who writes it, how it is mirrored, narrated, and taught is bread and butter.

Historian Tapati Guha-Thakurta says, “The targeting of statues is less about the object itself and more about what it embodies.

“What often matters more is the places of prominence they occupy,” she notes, “and when that politically becomes unacceptable.” ( Times of India, July 15, 2020) I agree!

Colonial statues should be removed. They spew a false narrative that is offensive.

In the meantime, the debate rages.

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


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