Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie did not mince words as they warned at last week's press briefing of the fourth wave of COVID-19, dominated by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Many of us are getting calls from family and friends who went abroad for the holidays that they must postpone their return as they have tested positive for COVID-19. Now, these are not careless people. They have double-masked, worn face shields, and remained in the homes of relatives. But, somehow, that sneaky Omicron found its way into their system.
This virus travels in an aerosol from the mouth or nose of infected people. It sprays far and wide and its particles are so light that they linger in the air for a long time. Surgical masks offer minimal protection as there are gaps at the sides and tying the strings makes an even bigger opening. It is recommended that you wear a cloth mask over the surgical mask for full protection, though the ideal is the N95 mask.
We love to sing in church, but this is now forbidden in some churches overseas; the aerosol travels further when released from singing, as well as loud talking and laughing. COVID-19 is a total wet blanket but, if we want to come out of this crisis, we must Zoom and FaceTime the laughter.
We continue to have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the Caribbean – less than 25 per cent. A Jamaica Informaton Service report by Alecia Smith quoted the minister: “We need to continue to emphasise to Jamaicans that the persons who are most affected by COVID-19, irrespective of the strain, whether it's Delta or otherwise, are persons who are not vaccinated, and it is a sobering message to those who are not, that you are in increased danger and you should make every effort to get vaccinated.”
Between last Thursday and Friday, Jamaica recorded 2,862 new cases and nine new deaths. The CMO said that, in reviewing the deaths from COVID-19 since March of last year, 98.5 per cent of the 1,953 people who passed away were unvaccinated. Yes, you can get COVID-19 even if you are vaccinated, but the symptoms will not be as severe as that of those who are unvaccinated.
I have been one of those pushing for schools to be reopened, but in the face of this massive surge which we believe will pass in three to four weeks, it may be best for the Ministry of Education to take a break once again from face-to-face learning. It is very hard for children to stay safe when they are boarding crowded buses and using taxis. And we are appealing to the many churches in the inner city to open their doors so children can get some level of supervision. The stories coming out of those places are frightening; we will have 10-year-old alcoholics and weed heads in these communities if we are not careful.
As to the destruction of 900,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine at the National Health Fund warehouse, we are hoping that this is a result of negligence rather than sabotage. We Jamaicans go “the full hundred” of enjoyment at Christmastime, and this breach happened on Christmas Eve when the celebrations are usually at peak. It would be bad enough if the loss was caused by negligence, but utterly despicable if it is proven to have been done purposely by anti-vax team members.
Young entrepreneurs shine
It is wonderful to see young entrepreneurs making their mark in Jamaica. Monique Powell of QuickCart (formerly QuickPlate) continues to widen her offerings and locations, while Larren Peart, creator of Bluedot is making his way through his financial challenges.
Tyrone Wilson, CEO of iCreate, was understandably bullish about the digital training and media services company's prospects at its recent annual general meeting. Having survived the downturn of the early stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic, rationalised and reduced expenses, iCreate has again attracted significant investments and is forging ahead with its visionary Creative City project, as well as the core business of training for the digital economy through the iCreate Institute.
The iCreate Institute has trained some 4,000 individuals to date, and earned over $150 million. We have a soft spot for the institute which offered 500 members of Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) free training last year.
Farewell great Jamaicans
We said farewell last week to four amazing Jamaicans, and I confess that my heart is heavy as I reflect on these great individuals.
First came news that my mother's best friend, Mrs Josephine Lowe, a stalwart of the Women's Federation, passed away at 103 years old. We have fond memories of her 100th birthday party, hosted by her son Dr Henry Lowe at Eden Gardens. She stood and danced as they played She's Royal and kept us all in lively conversation. Her house was the centre of fund-raisers for the community, and she was honoured several times for her contribution to the federation.
Then came news that Dr Glenda Simms, gender activist and former executive director of the Women's Bureau, had passed away in Canada. Dr Simms was a renowned feminist; she was president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada and was appointed president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women by the Canadian Government.
On Saturday, we learnt of the passing of the matriarch of the Chen family, Hyacinth Gloria Chen. We shared Chen's memories in this column some years ago — a single mother who was a bookkeeper at Frenchman's Cove and later opened a small shop in Port Antonio. She then married Vincent Chen, who was a wonderful father to her son Michael Lee-Chin, and together they raised a large family.
Her guidance influenced her children to aspire to higher learning and entrepreneurship. She was adored as a loving and wise grandmother and quietly reached out to help many.
Her contribution to nation-building is immeasurable. In her honour, Michael Lee-Chin named the courtyard at the Royal Ontario Museum Crystal for his mother and later, the Hyacinth Chen School of Nursing at Northern Caribbean University.
On meeting her, she immediately became to me, as to many others, our beloved “Aunt G”.
Soon after hearing of Hyacinth Chen's passing, I received the news that my friend and steadfast CCRP Board Director Michael Fraser had suddenly passed away.
Michael Fraser was the retired vice-president of Sagicor, and it was he who collaborated with them to introduce a health plan for the members of CCRP. This plan literally saved hundreds of lives. Michael gave generously of himself — he served on the board of the Jamaica Cancer Society, the Medical Foundation of Jamaica, and supported numerous philanthropic activities. His son Richard says he takes comfort from one of Michael Fraser's regular sayings: “We are not here for a long time; we are here for a good time.”
The tributes, which have come in from the humble to the high, signal that the late James Moss-Solomon “walked with kings, but never lost the common touch”. To hear Kadeem Petgrave and Yaneek Page speak of his guidance, to hear Don Wehby speak of his leadership, to hear the Prime Minister Andrew Holness speak of his patriotism are testimony of an extraordinary man.
We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families of these unforgettable Jamaicans. May their souls rest in peace.