Fighting COVID-19: Less criticism and more activismMonday, April 20, 2020
As we face an unprecedented crisis, every Jamaican should be playing a part — as small as it may be — to stop the spread of this virus. Of course, constructive criticism is welcome, but we should not be expending our energy on so much negative talk that we even contradict ourselves.
Last week, members of the Opposition first called for an islandwide lockdown and then criticised the lockdown of the parish of St Catherine, which is now unfortunately the epicentre of the virus outbreak, more than doubling the number of cases in the space of three days.
Then came the news that a driver at the Health Ministry had tested positive for the virus, resulting in the temporary closure of the ministry's offices in various locations. What a challenging situation, happening at the same time that workers at the Alorica call centre were being asked to get tested. We can understand how the issues with transportation and testing kits arose under those circumstances. The critics should know that even members of G20 countries are having testing hiccups. We are hoping to hear good news from the US Embassy about those testing kits that were blocked in the US en route to Jamaica. We know Ambassador Donald Tapia assisted in a similar situation for the Cayman Islands, and that he will do his best for us.
Political representatives could use their valuable time to give practical assistance and advice to help slow the spread. They can liaise with church groups to organise shopping trips for the elderly, distribute care packages, partner with town criers to raise awareness with a little humour to lift people's spirits, and use media to laud the quiet heroes in their communities who are looking out for others.
We know that funds have been allocated to every Member of Parliament for COVID-19 relief and it would be uplifting to hear more about the good work they may have been doing. Every effort we make to keep our citizens safe is an effort to protect ourselves and our all-important health workers and first responders.
Kudos to the many donors who have so far contributed $50 million in response to the #TogetherWeStandAgainstCovid fund-raising telethon last Sunday, spearheaded by Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange and her hard-working team. Some of Jamaica's finest talent worldwide stepped up to help raise funds to procure personal protective equipment for health personnel.
The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) COVID-19 Response Fund, launched by President Keith Duncan, has so far garnered $40 million towards their target of $250 million to tackle food insecurity and boost health services. Partnering with them are Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS), United Way, and American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ). Donors via US-based companies and individuals who channel donations through AFJ get the added benefit of a 501 c (3) tax allowance.
CCRP (Caribbean Community of Retired Persons) was also able to contribute $500,000 for care packages for elderly shut-ins. We had a call from Sergeant Jerr Johnson-Heron in central Kingston, who said she had been trying to assist shut-ins in her area. Our board decided that we would partner with the police to do islandwide distribution via Food For the Poor. The excellent Inspector Natalie Palmer-Mair will be coordinating the distribution.
When rent becomes due
These extraordinary times will bring extraordinary headaches to tenants and landlords alike. Realtor Carlene Sinclair shared that it is left up to landlords and tenants to come to a compassionate agreement as there is no provision in the Rent Act for natural disasters and pandemics. She is hoping that those landlords with mortgages, who have been given a grace period by their banks, will share this concession with tenants in difficulty.
Some people can be heartless. Sinclair said a doctor in New York was thrown out by his landlord because he said he was high risk. Let us look out for our health workers here in Jamaica; they are sacrificing a lot for us.
Small businesses which must limit their opening hours may also be hard hit through no fault of their own, as they must abide by the Government's regulations. We do hope they have applied online for the COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme benefits offered by the Ministry of Finance. People, I know it can be a pain to get all the paperwork done to be tax compliant, but Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke's reduction of certain taxes does make it easier — and now those businesses who have been tax compliant are able to apply for some level of relief.
The Digicel difference
Nineteen years ago today Jamaicans lined up in Kingston and St James to buy their first Digicel mobile handsets — previously regarded as luxuries. I was proud to have been part of the team which piloted the launch on the previous day, ending with hundreds of phones lighting up at midnight in the Grand Jamaica Suite at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.
The intrepid Irish entrepreneur Denis O'Brien recalls seeing an advertisement in the Financial Times about a telecoms licence being offered in Jamaica and decided to apply. What a moment for our country! This opened up employment and a revolution in telecommunications. The Irish cared less for your address and more for your competence.
We have seen Debbie Williams rise from office attendant to senior receptionist and listened to her cheerily emceeing the Digicel 10th anniversary celebrations. As Digicel launched networks in 32 other countries, their Jamaican managers were sent to train the new teams. “I want them to have the Jamaican DNA,” Denis O'Brien told Cliff Hughes at the Haiti launch in 2006.
We caught the energetic buzz of Colm Delves, Seamus Lynch, David Hall, and Jamaica's own Harry Smith — now chairman of Digicel Jamaica. From Professor Hopeton Dunn, whose telecoms chair at The University of the West Indies (UWI) was funded for several years by Digicel, we heard reports of market women, fishermen and taxi operators whose business grew significantly because they could make and receive orders quickly. Live-in household workers spoke of their relief that they now had a way to keep in close touch with their children.
In 2004 Digicel launched its foundation, with the first CEO Major General (Ret'd) Robert Neish overseeing the fast roll-out of islandwide projects with military precision. Built on the pillars of education, special needs, and entrepreneurship for community development, the foundation (which I chair) has invested to date US$37.7 million in 1,279 projects, improving the lives of 649,747 Jamaicans.
Happy 19th Birthday, Digicel! Here's to many more!
Medical Technologists Week
This is International Medical Technologists/Laboratory Professionals Week and Jamaica has an active branch of the Caribbean Association of Medical Technologists. As many countries clamour for testing, let us remember the medical technologists who are working long hours to deliver those important numbers. My friend who is involved in COVID-19 testing here in Jamaica noted that it is dangerous work and that they are always on call. They are also concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment. Gratitude to our hard-working medical technologists; we appreciate you!
FFP Easter Prison release
Every Christmas and Easter Food For the Poor (FFP) organises prison releases for non-violent offenders, much to the joy of their families.
“Thanks to our compassionate donors we were able to help release the 49 incarcerated people from their cells this Easter season,” said FFP President/CEO Ed Raine.
Fines were paid for the individuals, including one woman, resulting in their release during Holy Week in Haiti, Guyana, and Jamaica, some of whom were overcome with emotion after spending years in prison for petty offences.
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