Chaos at the National Arena a mark of utter disrespect for citizensTuesday, June 22, 2021
Last Saturday, June 19, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, supported by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), completely embarrassed the Jamaican nation by allowing a repeat of the chaotic scenes which played out at the National Arena in April.
Hundreds of Jamaicans, mostly seniors, massed outside the gates of the complex on Arthur Wint Drive, in St Andrew, to get their second COVID-19 shot, as scheduled by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. An hour after the announced start they were turned away.
It was an ugly demonstration of how unprepared the ministry is to handle large crowds, or the vaccine blitz of their own creation, even after the April 10 débâcle that should at least have warned them about what to expect.
Indeed, Saturday's fiasco was worse than that in April when, at the very least, the people were allowed inside the car park and then under tents outside the entrance to the Arena — albeit after more than two hours in the broiling sun.
The early signs came when the ministry sent out texts to citizens who had received their first jab in April to turn up on June 19. Shortly after, that first text was rescinded, and was followed by a third which pushed back the initial appointment by an hour.
These people turned up in their numbers, many parked on the sidewalk, to be met by closed gates and to be told after another two hours that there were no more vaccines and they should go back home.
The ministry later explained that the Arena site was overrun and advised the frustrated citizens that the site would be closed and that they would be told this week when to return. Hopefully, some announcement of sort will be made today.
Angry callers to the Jamaica Observer newsroom reported that throughout the week many people under 50 years old were seen getting their second shot, possibly resulting in a run on vaccines that should have been held for older, more vulnerable citizens.
It is clear to us that the real problem is that Jamaica does not have enough vaccines for everyone who is willing to take it. We had warned in this space that it was bound to happen, given the fact that we were late out of the blocks in seeking to acquire vaccines, which were being hoarded by rich nations. Barbados and other Caricom partners were well ahead of us and got supplies before.
Be that as it may, there is obvious need to better manage how we handle what little we have. There must be a way to ascertain at the gate who has a legitimate appointment to get the second shot and on what day and time. Only those — and they can tell by asking for the cards issued by the Ministry of Health and Wellness from the first dose — should be allowed in.
Jamaicans, accustomed to the usual ramshackle behaviour and chaos, will turn up early for an appointment, hoping to beat the rush. There should be a holding area for them. Everybody cannot be allowed to bundle up in one place.
The solution cannot be to lock the gates, forcing people to park anywhere they can find a space, blocking traffic and getting angrier and more stressed by the minute. We must treat our tax-paying citizens with greater respect.
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