Jamaica puts up a fight in the COVID-19 battleMonday, March 16, 2020
“This feels like wartime,” said my friend, as we discuss our stocks of various medicines and supplies. Yes, indeed, we are in a war against an invisible enemy. But we can be grateful that the Jamaican Government has taken timely steps to safeguard our health.
We have been in preparedness mode for the arrival of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a good two months. Health & Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, and their teams have been sharing prevention information religiously. My friend, who has strong connections with the health sector, said that in January she knew of moves being made to stock up on the necessary medicines and hygiene items. There have been advertisements on traditional and digital media about hand-washing and other precautions to be taken. Press briefings held by Tufton informed us of the first two cases and subsequently, six additional cases, then, just yesterday, two more.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness's press conference last Friday was comprehensive and reassuring. The participation of his Cabinet members demonstrated that he had all hands on deck. We can understand the quarantine measures set up in the Six Miles and Seven Miles areas of Bull Bay where “Patient Zero” had attended a funeral, and her father and a close friend have now tested positive for the virus. Let the two-week incubation pass so that, if present, other cases can be identified.
We are particularly impressed with the measures being taken to protect the residents of the 13 Government infirmaries islandwide. We learned from Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie that of the 3,500 residents, 98 per cent are high-risk, and therefore provisions are being made for a good stock of medication, hygiene supplies, and isolation areas.
Building of additional accommodation will take place at some of these infirmaries for some 50 “social patients” in our public hospitals. Who are these individuals? They are fully recovered patients who have been abandoned by their families. It makes one nervous for the elderly in our communities during these trying times. Some of them may be terrified of commuting to get supplies. We can check on such neighbours to ensure they have their supplies and call them regularly, as loneliness can lead to depression.
Our day's worker arrived in gloves last week. We explained to her that it was safer not to wear gloves generally, but to observe a strict hand-washing and hand-sanitising regimen as gloves will carry germs and can give a false sense of security.
As has several other organisations, last Friday we decided to have our team members at PROComm and CCRP (Caribbean Community of Retired Persons) work remotely, as several of them use public transportation and we would not want them to have that level of exposure.
It took a while for some church leaders to see the light, but thankfully it is happening. Now pastors are advising their elderly members that they should stay away from church services. My friend in New Jersey says his Roman Catholic archdiocese has suspended mass. We have to remember, “God helps those who help themselves.”
We cannot thank the members of our essential services enough for their dedication — medical personnel, the security forces, the fire department, power and telecoms providers.
As we gear for the challenges in our health system, we thank the Government of Cuba for assisting with medical personnel. May we 'flatten' the curve of this virus by taking personal responsibility in safeguarding ourselves, our families, our workplaces, and our churches. Wash your hands and keep your distance.
As we plan to work remotely for the next fortnight, we recall the repeated calls of Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Caribbean Regional Manager Therese Turner Jones that we need digital transformation in our businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions to maximise efficiency and keep in step with our global partners.
Jamaica Observer Business Reporter Kellaray Miles quoted her from a recent event: “Most firms in the Caribbean region, about some 19 per cent or less than one in five, rely on any kind of research and development to grow their businesses — that's an appalling number!”
“It's coming,” she declared, “artificial intelligence or over the Internet — we are not applying new and innovative ways of doing things to the ways businesses are operating in the Caribbean.”
Turner-Jones noted, “It's not about mastering 15 or 23 CXCs [Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate passes] as they do in Guyana, that's not really a good way of educating our kids for the future. Kids for the future need to be global citizens; knowing how to be multilingual, digitally literate, and able to collaborate and work with each other in teams.”
This applies to Jamaicans of all ages. We see constant complaints from seniors about long waits in banking halls, so we need to help them understand the convenience of online banking. CCRP board director and retired civil servant Vilma McDonald attests to the ease with which she not only does banking but also pays her utility bills online. This COVID-19 situation should motivate us to download those apps and make good use of our smartphones.
EU-UN Spotlight Initiative
EU Ambassador to Jamaica Malgorzata Wasilewska and UN representative Michelle Gyles-McDonnough jointly launched Jamaica's participation in the worldwide Spotlight Initiative last week. This EU-UN programme aims at eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. They are turning the spotlight on the importance of protecting women and girls towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment, crucial to the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The UN website reminds us that:
• violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violations in our world today;
• one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence; and
• women and girls are disproportionately subjected to violence, including femicide, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, trafficking, and harmful practices.
With strong support from the diplomatic corps, including Canada's High Commissioner to Jamaica Laurie Peters, Honorary Consul for Thailand Thalia Lyn, US Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia, French Ambassador to Jamaica Denys Wibaux, Ambassador Wasilewska noted that the largest tranche of the 500-million Euro sponsorship, 7.5-million Euro, would be invested in Jamaican programmes.
As we share the distress of the father of The University of the West Indies, Mona student Jasmine Dean, who has been missing for over two weeks, the families who have suffered a similar fate, and those grieving the 20 women murdered since the beginning of this year, we see the urgency of this programme. We have only one shelter for battered women, founded and nurtured by Woman Inc's Angela Jones and Joyce Hewett, and look forward to the additional three to be built by the Government.
We have a transportation system that is overburdened, and there's limited public transportation system outside of the Corporate Area, leaving our girls and women at the mercy of sexual predators posing as taxi drivers. It is a tall order for a small country to develop an islandwide transportation system, but perhaps we could begin with a school bus project organised by the Ministry of Education.
We have to applaud the efforts of Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “ Babsy” Grange in piloting the anti-harassment Bill through the House, as we are sick and tired of the antisocial behaviour of some men, even those who should be setting a better example. Let us turn the spotlight on these dark corners and clean them up!
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login