The world is used to trailing Jamaica in sprinting, but we are late out of the starting blocks this time in the post-COVID-19 race. We will have to run a Olympic record or world-leading time if we are to grab a coveted spot on the medal podium.
Media reports out of Barbados last Thursday say that a major vaccination effort on that island had resulted in approximately 12.5 per cent of the population receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine shot within two weeks. Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, Guyana, as well as Trinidad and Tobago all started their vaccination programmes ahead of Jamaica.
On The Rock, we delivered the first life-saving jab last Wednesday. Jamaica has won a string of world and Olympic medals in the sprints, but we are lagging behind in this most crucial race, which will largely determine whether the promise to “build back stronger” is mere hot air.
One does not need progressive or transition lenses to see that, at the outset, America stumbled in the race to control the ruthless spread of the novel coronavirus. Their fumble out of the starting blocks continues to result in some trillions in losses.
Consider this: “COVID-19 will exact a US$16 trillion toll on the US — four times the cost of the Great Recession — when adding the costs of lost lives and health to the direct economic impact, according to former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and fellow Harvard University economist David Cutler.” ( Bloomberg, October 12, 2020)
US President Joe Biden reiterated last week that they will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for every adult by the end of May 2021. This is two months earlier than Biden's previous target. An average 1.8 million Americans have been vaccinated every day since the start of this month. Up to last Thursday, 97 million doses had been administered. Still, the Biden Administration needs a Maurice Green-type world record run of 9.79 seconds to recover from a very bad start.
Last Thursday CNN reported a sharp fall in confirmed cases since the start of the year — just under 50,000 is well down on the January 8, 2020 peak of 300,000.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last Monday “that fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing”. ( Associated Press, March 8, 2021)
Some states have already relaxed mask-wearing and public gathering restrictions in order to boost their economies. America is playing catch-up with the Chinese, who say they fully reopened their economy several months ago.
The geopolitical stakes are extremely high.
Check this! On December 26, 2020 a British Broadcasting Corporation ( BBC) report noted, among other things: “China will overtake the US to become the world's largest economy by 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast, a report says. The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China's 'skilful' management of COVID-19 would boost its relative growth compared to the US and Europe in coming years. Meanwhile, India is tipped to become the third-largest economy by 2030.”
Ting-a-ling-a-ling, note India is rapidly on the rise. College calculus is not required to figure the conspicuous connections, for example, between recent gifts of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to many Caribbean countries from our friends in India and the inevitable realignment of the kings of the globe's geopolitical hill.
Consider this snippet from an article in The Times of India that was published last Tuesday: “Strong economic growth in India has positive implications for the global economy, and the country stands out for its vaccine policy, which is playing a key role in helping the world deal with the COVID-19 crisis, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief economist Gita Gopinath said on Monday.
“ 'India makes up about seven per cent of world GDP [gross domestic product] based on purchasing power parity terms. So, when you are that large, what happens in India has implications for many other countries in the world, especially countries in the region,' Gopinath said.” ( The Times of India, March 9, 2021)
Like America, Britain had a terribly bad start in the race to tame the spread of the novel coronavirus. Faisal Islam, the economics editor of BBC News, in an article entitled 'Which countries will recover fastest from the pandemic?' noted as follows: “In the first months of the pandemic it was similarly clear that the UK's increase in the proportion of excess deaths was the worst of the major economies.” ( BBC, March 9, 2020)
The UK has learned its lessons and, like one of its most famous 100m sprinters, Linford Christie, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recovering from an awful start. Islam, in the mentioned article, also noted: “The OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] is the developed world's think tank, and such comparisons are its bread and butter. On the face of it its new economic forecasts, released this morning, contained the happy news of an upgrade to UK growth prospects this year to a whopping 5.1 per cent, after the success in rolling out vaccines.”
There are lessons for Jamaica here.
Tom Franck, economics and policy writer at CNBC, in an insightful piece, 'CBO sees rapid growth recovery, labour force returning to pre-pandemic level by 2022', submitted as follows: “US economic growth will recover 'rapidly' and the labour market will return to full strength quicker than expected, thanks to the vaccine roll-out and a barrage of legislation enacted in 2020, according to a government forecast published Monday.
“Gross domestic product, or GDP, is expected to return to its pre-pandemic size by mid-2021, and the labour force is forecast to rebound to its pre-pandemic level in 2022, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office [CBO] said.
“Importantly, the CBO said its rosier projections do not assume any new stimulus, including President Joe Biden's US$1.9 trillion plan.”
So, it is not rocket science, the developed economies realise that a hugely successful COVID-19 vaccine roll-out is the linchpin to economic and social recovery. Again, there are lessons for Jamaica here.
It bears repeating: Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and other neighbours in the Caribbean have a lead on us in the race to vaccinate their populations. In the coming days and weeks Jamaica will have to summon the speed of legendary sprinter Usain Bolt if she is to regain lost momentum in the race to vaccinate the population.
Right away, I hear some government officials saying, “But we don't make the vaccine here, we can only use what we have.”
That is quite true, and that does not stop us from ramping up the pace at which we are vaccinating citizens with the supplies on hand. We we told 3,500 would have been vaccinated last Wednesday, just over 2,500 were. Do we realise that there is a national emergency on our hands?
Last Thursday, it was reported that 12 Jamaicans died from COVID-19. We are approaching 500 COVID-19-related deaths, and near 30,000 cases.
I find it curious that on the day the gift of 50,000 COVID-19 vaccines arrived from India, it was also confirmed — this after a four-week wait — that the more transmissible British coronavirus variant was on our shores. Are the South African and Brazilian variants here too?
The Andrew Holness-led Administration, doubtless, understands that a successful vaccination programme is vital. Our economy needs it if she is to emerge from her hibernation.
Let us not delude ourselves, folks in America, Britain, Canada, China, and other countries, who will be hurrying to book their post-pandemic vacations, can as easily book a flight to any of our Caribbean neighbours as they can for Jamaica — notwithstanding that we are perhaps the most physically beautiful of all the islands and have a tourist product of global repute. We now need to creatively think ahead and act accordingly to regain momentum lost to our competition.
On that score, a perceptive editorial in this newspaper last Tuesday commented: “Notwithstanding all that, we would urge the Government not to fall prey to desperation, as Dr Tufton appears to be doing.
“While we keep fighting for the vaccines, serious focus should now be placed on putting ourselves in a position to accept the fast-emerging vaccine passports which are meant to make business and leisure travel easier.
“The world is racing towards such common sense arrangements, including our biggest trading partner and tourism source market, the United States.”
This makes eminent sense to me. But I am sure there are folks waiting in the wings to posit: “But that is not how these things are done.”
The Administration would do well to focus on the fact that governments don't often get a second chance to make a first impression, especially in the circumstances of a pandemic. Our citizens have been tremendously patient to date, while their lives and livelihoods have been ravaged. This is why folks need to see and feel that their Government is going that extra mile to bring back some semblance of normality.
Last Tuesday's budget presentation by Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke was evidently crafted with the above reality at the forefront. A massive economic recovery programme, primarily built around a $31-billion infrastructure development project to provide employment for thousands of Jamaicans, is good news.
I have said previously in this space that, in times of great economic and social travail, foundational infrastructural development, which foster large-scale employment, makes sense.
The numerous social intervention programmes which Clarke announced last Tuesday are just what the doctor ordered. Delivery will make or break the Administration.
Is there a concern?
Earlier this month Nationwide News Network broke a very disturbing story. The news item said, among other things: “Checks conducted by Nationwide News have confirmed that Jamaica's Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has been partnering with a US-based non-profit organisation whose founder and executive director's education certificate was suspended in the US after it was established he had sexually inappropriate exchanges with a minor.” ( NNN, March 3, 2020)
Were there guardrails to prevent this occurrence? If, yes, what were they, and why did they not work?
Every well-thinking Jamaican should be concerned with this startling revelation. If memory serves me right, the CPFSA, which was formerly the Child Development Agency (CDA), was mired in a similar scandal some years ago.
The public has been told that Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams, under whose portfolio the CPFSA falls, has ordered the suspension of any relationship with the organisation mentioned in the scandal, and instructed that a thorough investigation be done in short order.
The country is anxious to hear the findings of that investigation. I hope this will not be another nine-day wonder and then we all go back to the 'same ole same ole'.
Let the chips fall where they may.
Some folks have expressed shock at a video circulating on social media showing a taxi man in a physical confrontation with a policeman. This happened allegedly after the police tried to carry out his lawful duties.
I am not shocked at all. I have seen this movie before. The big difference, this time, is that, the ending was better.
Gladly, although some have said otherwise, the policeman did not shoot the civilian.
I am not confident that we won't see more incidents like the one mentioned here. Why? Social order is rapidly disappearing in Jamaica. It's not unusual to see some adult males urinating in public spaces, vendors typically blocking roads in many town centres, public passenger vehicles routinely breaking traffic rules with absolute glee, and pedestrians walking out onto roadways as they feel a mind.
Too many of us seem to be oblivious to the fact that the common denominator that underpins the economic achievements of developed countries critically includes, among other things, admirable social order cemented in a wider framework of the rule of law.
Until a critical mass in Jamaica puts a premium on the rule of law, we will continue to drift aimlessly into further social decadence and lawlessness. There's a clear choice before us!
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.