Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Peter Espeut | Supporting Christopher Tufton

Published:Friday | June 5, 2020 | 12:20 AM
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, playfully elbows eight-year-old Adika Wilson after giving her a mask in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, playfully elbows eight-year-old Adika Wilson after giving her a mask in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.

It is clear that not all the members of Jamaica’s Cabinet are in agreement with the move by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to open our borders to foreign tourists without them undergoing tests for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Just after the PM made the announcement earlier this week, Minister of Health Christopher Tufton announced that if that is done, we are to expect an “exponential increase” in coronavirus cases.

I am not sure the public understands the term “exponential increase”. Let us say the number of cases is 100: if the number doubles then the number of cases will rise to 200 (100x2 = 200); an exponential increase would be 100x100 = 10,000.

Chris Tufton – an honourable man – has worked hard over the last few weeks and months to constrain the spread of COVID-19 throughout Jamaica, and he must be alarmed that all his good work might be brought to naught. This open sign of dissent by Chris Tufton is to be congratulated; at least there is one brave person in the Cabinet.

I am not saying that the choices facing Prime Minister Holness are easy. People, formerly employed, are now unemployed, and may be on the brink of defaulting on their mortgages; there now may be less food on the table. Businesses, formerly solvent, may now be on the brink of bankruptcy; salary cuts and lay-offs loom.

On the other side, more coronavirus cases mean more pressure on the hospitals and health services, and more deaths, hence Minister Tufton’s concern.

I believe this is called a dilemma: you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

In this case, if PM Holness chooses not to open Jamaica’s borders to reopen tourism, he will be damned by powerful elements in the private sector; and if he opens the borders without mandatory testing of tourists, thereby putting Jamaican lives at risk, then he will be damned by the human-rights advocates and pro-life lobbyists and those concerned about public health.

DAMNED BY HUMAN-RIGHTS ADVOCATES

It seems that he prefers to be damned by the human-rights advocates, and lauded by tourism interests.

In the face of widespread public criticism, PM Holness has said that every tourist entering Jamaica will be screened with temperature checks and questions about where they are coming from. The fact is that testing and screening are not the same thing; I am screened every time I try to enter my supermarket. So far every Jamaican repatriated over the last few weeks has been tested, and not a few cases of COVID-19 have been detected; one recently repatriated Jamaican has died due to their COVID-19 infection.

Of course, there is another option: opening our borders with every tourist being tested; they would then have to be quarantined in their resort hotel, awaiting their results (just like Jamaicans). Somebody powerful does not like that option.

I have heard PM Holness argue for private sector exceptionalism; in The Gleaner of June 3 he is quoted: “ There are many people who have business here, they need to come and inspect; look what is happening and just go back, it would be unreasonable to ask somebody here to come and spend 14 days in quarantine in terms of a business perspective.” One rule for private citizens, and one rule for private businessmen.

It is this kind of thinking that puts the health and lives of ordinary Jamaicans at risk.

PM Holness claims that he has chosen to reopen Jamaica’s borders to tourists without testing because of his risk analysis. There is the risk of Jamaicans being infected and dying, and there is the risk of business losses.

One MP has told me that up to last week the Government had not yet received the J$31.5 million donation offered by a prominent hotelier. I wonder what is holding it up?

Let us support the brave Minister Tufton.

Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.