Peter Espeut | We can beat this
Last Wednesday, China reported a full day with no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the first time since the pandemic began last December. This gives tremendous hope, showing that there are things Jamaica can do to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 virus is very infectious, and can be deadly, especially for older people with diabetes and hypertension. In its early stages, persons infected with this virus don’t feel sick; but they are sick, and are infecting other people with the virus which they are shedding from their bodies. It takes about two weeks after a person is infected for them to start showing symptoms. This means that when we go to the supermarket, or to church, or travel in a taxi or bus, we could be becoming infected, and we could be infecting others.
This is why people who live in Seven Miles and Eight Miles in Bull Bay, St Andrew, are under quarantine. Two Saturdays ago, a Jamaican woman, who picked up the COVID-19 virus infection in England, came to Jamaica to attend a funeral in Bull Bay. She infected her father and her close friend, and who knows how many others in that church. Persons who attended that funeral went to their own churches the following day, and if they were infected, they may have infected some of their church brothers and sisters. Therefore, if Bull Bay residents stay home and keep to themselves, they won’t be spreading the virus. And after two weeks, if you show no symptoms, then you will know that you are COVID-19-free. Afterwards, if you walk around and come in contact with others who may be infected, you will need to quarantine yourself for another two weeks.
It is not yet two weeks since that funeral in Bull Bay, so that people who were there cannot yet know for certain whether they are infected or not. And then there are those who would have been infected after the funeral. Placing Bull Bay under quarantine is a necessary move to break the cycle of infection and transmission.
The only way to reduce infections is for EVERYONE to stay home in self-quarantine. That is what China did and they reduced the number of people being newly infected. That is what Italy and Spain are doing right now. The sooner all of us stay home and avoid contact with other people, is the sooner we here in Jamaica will beat this COVID-19 virus pandemic: no school, no church, no funerals, no bars, no concerts, no football matches, no Champs, no hugging, kissing, or shaking of hands. And we must kill the germs around us by constantly washing our hands, disinfecting our tables and counters, and sanitising our surroundings.
Hunker down for better
How is it going to be possible for people to stay home for weeks? What about food? We have to stock up for the long haul. If we are not working, where will we get the funds to pay our mortgages and our car loans and our utility bills? Clearly, the hard-earned savings of many of us are going to be depleted during this pandemic. But if we don’t hunker down in our homes, the outbreak will be prolonged, and we will all be worse off.
The responsibility of the Government is to test, test, and then, test some more. If we do not test, then we have no cases, and we won’t know whether we are infected or virus-free. I believe that the reason we have so few cases so far, is that we have done only a few tests, waiting for symptoms to present
If we do not test, then we won’t know when to end the quarantine. The Government says they now have enough reagents to test many hundreds of people for COVID-19, and I am going to take them at their word. They must test everyone in Bull Bay and Hayes, Cornpiece, Settlement, and other communities where infected people have clustered.
How long should the lockdown last? Realistically, it could last months rather than weeks. The economy of the country is going to suffer. Tourism is headed for a shutdown. People who look to relatives abroad to send them money to buy food are going to find that even their relatives overseas are having a hard time.
We can beat this pandemic if we quarantine and test. Otherwise, we will prolong the outbreak unnecessarily.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and theologian, and is dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College.