Put hands and hearts together to beat COVID-19Monday, September 27, 2021
“On a recent visit to Canada, where 77 per cent of the population is vaccinated, things were back to normal,” shared chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Keith Duncan. He was speaking at the EPOC press briefing last Friday, where he pleaded with Jamaicans to “put hands and hearts together” to beat COVID-19 and reopen our economy, noting that, while vaccination levels are increasing, we are not as nimble as our Caribbean neighbours.
“We need to reduce the divisiveness and pettiness,” he urged. “We need a united and selfless response from all.” Corporate Jamaica has been struggling with the issue of vaccine mandates and must be silently thanking Cari-Med Chairman Glen Christian for leading the way with his company's decision to require fortnightly COVID-19 testing from those staff members who decide not to take the vaccine.
I believe the upbeat, engaging approach of Member of Parliament (MP) Alando Terrelonge should be adopted in the islandwide campaign. We have 63 Members of Parliament and over 200 parish councillors. Surely that is an army of promoters who should be all singing from the same hymn sheet.
A health-care worker, in a WhatsApp message, provided a synopsis of what has been happening in hospitals islandwide: “I did the tally. So, on night shift from eight to four, in the respiratory area, I saw the unvaccinated patients… 35, and then we have seven vaccinated patients. You know what happened to the seven vaccinated patients? They went home! You know what happened to the rest of the patients? They are still here, battling to breathe. So please, people, get vaccinated. It's not a joke. I'm begging you, please.”
There is a possibility that, if the vaccines we now have are not taken by the end of September — which is this Thursday — they may have to be dumped. This is, indeed, a national emergency — church, State, private sector, and civil society had better get people out to the many vaccine centres all over the island.
We cannot afford to waste one precious drop.
Economy in recovery
It will not happen overnight.
Jamaica has not yet returned to its 2019 economic status, however, there are encouraging signs, as reported by the EPOC Chairman Keith Duncan. He noted the Planning Institute of Jamaica's (PIOJ) estimate that “real gross domestic product (GDP) for the Jamaican economy grew by 12.9 per cent in the April to June 2021 quarter, compared with the corresponding quarter of 2020”. He attributed this to a 330.7 per cent increase in the hotel and restaurant industry, resulting from a significant increase in visitor arrivals now that our borders have reopened.
“PIOJ also projects real GDP growth to fall within the range of 4.0 per cent — 6.0 per cent for July to September 2021. Early indicators reflect continued increase in preliminary airport arrivals, up by 304.8 per cent to 169,782 people for the month of July,” Duncan stated.
Government tax revenues for April to July 2021 of $17.1 billion have exceeded estimates and represents a 39.4 per cent increase over that of the previous year, due to recovery in international travel and tourism, and the Bank of Jamaica's net international reserves are “more than adequate at US$3.93 billion”.
There has been a 25.1 per cent increase in remittances — US$249.40 million up to July of this year. “Remittances have been of great help to the most vulnerable in our population,” said Duncan. “EPOC acknowledges our Jamaican Diaspora who have responded to the needs of their families and friends at home in Jamaica.”
Our unemployment rate is on a downward trend — nine per cent as at April 2021, compared to 12.6 per cent as at July 2021. However, Duncan warned: “Businesses expect inflation to trend up to 7.4 per cent in the next 12 months.”
We can look forward to some relief in the GOJ's first Supplementary Estimates to be tabled tomorrow by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, offering support for the health sector and vulnerable Jamaicans.
Many thanks to Althea Walters and Saschelle Ricketts, who, in lockstep with Keith Duncan, compiled EPOC's findings. They are staffers at JMMB, sponsors of EPOC's communications programme.
A lady will lead the JDF
Jamaican women held our heads a little higher last week when we learnt of the historic appointment of Commodore Antonette Wemyss-Gorman as the next chief of staff of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF). She will succeed Lieutenant General Rocky Meade who will begin his pre-retirement at the end of this year after outstanding leadership of the force since 2016.
Commodore Wemyss-Gorman, who has served the JDF for over 29 years, is currently the highest-ranking female in the Jamaica Defence Force and the only woman at that rank in the region. She is a career officer who was trained at the Britannia Royal Naval College, HMS Collingwood, and the US Navy War College.
A graduate of Knox College and The University of the West Indies, with a master's degree in national security and strategic studies, Commodore Wemyss-Gorman has achieved many firsts. She was the first seagoing female officer to serve in the JDF, the JDF Coast Guard, the Caribbean Military Maritime Training Centre, and the Maritime Air and Cyber Command. She has also commanded various patrol vessels.
In 2014, she became the first female to attain the rank of commander (lieutenant colonel) and be in command of a unit in the JDF. She is currently the force executive officer.
She has been the recipient of many awards and and medals, among them are the Order of Distinction (Officer class) for her military service and the Medal of Honour for meritorious service. She has also received an award for distinguished leadership by the United Way Women Leadership Initiative in 2015. In May 2019 she was honoured by the Women in the Caribbean Maritime Association for her contribution to maritime security in the region.
Commodore Wemyss-Gorman is respected regionally and internationally in her field and has represented the region at various forums. She hails from Top Alston district in the parish of Clarendon, is mother to 15-year-old James, and is married to Jonathan.