Jamaica is at a dangerous tipping point with COVID-19

In recent weeks the country has experienced a worrying surge in the number of people being infected by the coronavirus. At the time of writing, over 878 have been affected out of a sample of over 2,000 people. We now have a positivity rate of 36 per cent, which is almost catastrophic when weighed against the accepted World Health Organization (WHO) standard.

There are variants of the virus that worry health authorities around the world, and we have now identified the UK variant in Jamaica. This is serious and this could partly explain the present surge.

As is already well known, our hospitals are at a breaking point. Some would argue that they have already been broken and are at the point of disintegration. Our health personnel, who have shown tremendous bravery and tenacity in the face of this growing crisis, are themselves at a breaking point. They have worked hard to contain the virus and save lives in a health system that was already creaking. But it has been a frustrating grind for them. This has been made harder by the fact that many Jamaicans are now treating the virus with a deadly abandon that has not been seen in the first seven months of the pandemic. This is evidenced in the rising rates of infection and hospitalisations.

After having worked so hard to keep the virus in check, one can understand how frustrating and disheartening it is for our medical personnel to see people behave in this way, especially when you know that things will only get worse. Frankly, such behaviour is a blatant disrespect for our medical personnel and a lack of compassion for those who have to be working so hard to address what could have been prevented if people were more responsible and observe the protocols.

The Government is not yet disposed to assert the drastic and ultimate measure of locking down the country. It is mindful of the economic hardships this would have on the country, in general, and the poorer members of the society in particular. The prime minister has more than hinted that this may have to happen. It is not difficult to find sympathy with the argument of economic hardship. But it is not difficult to sympathise with the need for drastic and more resolute measures if the problem becomes more injurious to the public good. We are at that point at which moral suasion is no longer working.

As I see the mounting cases of hospitalisation and resultant deaths, images of New York in the US, Mexico, and Brazil under siege from the virus come to my mind. I recall the refrigerated trucks in New York which had to be used to store bodies because the morgues could not cope. Do we have refrigerated trucks in Jamaica to take bodies? I recall the plots of land in Mexico and Brazil that had to be dedicated as cemeteries to bury the hundreds that were dying daily. The grief and trauma to families that had lost loved ones seemed unimaginable.

We quickly forget these images when we believe that the worse is behind us, or when we allow fatigue to lead to complacency. But the modus operandi of the virus has not changed, except to mutate to new variants to keep itself alive and relevant to our lives. What it did to those countries aforementioned and others when it surged can and will happen in Jamaica if we do not wake up and get smart and responsible.

There is a glimmer of hope with the arrival of the first batch of vaccines, but it will be some time before vaccines arrive in the quantities desired and for the majority of people to be vaccinated. And we still have to get many beyond the myths that may hamper a robust vaccination of the population. So, while there is some hope, we are still thick in the COVID-19 woods. The worse can yet happen, and we must not refrain from telling people the hard truth. Sometimes there seems to be some diffidence or timidity on the part of the authorities to tell people the unvarnished truth. They do not want to scare people. But Jamaicans need to be scared right now. If things persist as they are, a lot can get bad very quickly. This is no joke.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

Raulston Nembhard

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