Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Peter Espeut | COVID-19 conspiracy theories and facts

Published:Friday | October 2, 2020 | 12:06 AM

It took 191 days for Jamaica to have 50 deaths related to COVID-19 (on September 16). It took only 12 more days (September 28) to have the second 50 deaths. This is not a conspiracy theory, Minister Tufton – this is a fact!

The Government’s theory is that the explosion in COVID-19 cases and deaths is related to unwise and irresponsible celebration of Emancipation Day and Independence Day by the public. This theory does not stand up to scrutiny.

By August 1 and August 6 deaths attributed to COVID-19 were 10 and 12, respectively; 14 days after each, the death toll was 14 and 15. A week later, the Government reported 16 and 19 deaths (respectively). From 10 to 19 is an increase of nine or 90 per cent. The increase in deaths is regrettable, but small.

I am not saying that many Jamaicans did not celebrate Emancipendence unwisely; what I am saying is that the data does not support the Government’s theory that celebrations between August 1 and 6 were responsible for an explosion in deaths, because there was no explosion at that time.

Evidence

Let us now look at the evidence for the (conspiracy) theory that it was the general election and its associated campaign period and post-election celebrations that may have caused the explosion in COVID-19 deaths.

By nomination day (August 18) after 162 days, the accumulated deaths attributed to COVID-19 was 14; fourteen days later (September 1) the death toll was 24. Fourteen days after election day (September 15) the count was 55 Jamaicans dead; a week after that (taking into account the deadly effect of post-election celebrations), the body count had risen to 80.

From 14 deaths to 80 – an increase of 66 deaths or 471 per cent – now, that is an explosion in deaths.

I don’t think there is a statistician who will disagree with me that the correlation between the dates of the 2020 election campaign and the increase in COVID-19 deaths is so significant as to support a hypothesis for causation.

But you are not going to hear that theory from the government analysts.

Suggestion that it was Jamaicans irresponsibly celebrating Emancipendence, which caused the explosion in cases and deaths, places the blame and responsibility away from the Government; this is the theory that you will hear from the government analysts.

By nomination day (August 18) the accumulated number of COVID-19 cases was 1,146 after 162 days; 14 days later (September 1) the number of cases had more than doubled to 2,683. Fourteen days after election day (September 15) the count was 4,164 cases; a week after that (taking into account the effect of post-election celebrations), the count had risen to 5,395 cases.

From 1,146 cases to 5,395 cases – an increase of 371 per cent. Suppose the election turnout had been higher? The explosion in the number of cases and deaths would probably have been much louder!

Further, I now argue, the above data on cases and deaths support the hypothesis that it was the general election and its associated campaign period that ushered us into the community spread phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DEEMED CONSPIRACY THEORY

You are not going to hear this theory from the government analysts.

Is this also going to be deemed a conspiracy theory?

Let me make myself clear: I believe that we could have had the general election – campaign and all – without an explosion in cases and deaths, if the Government had banned public campaign gatherings. Giving out branded T-shirts and caps, and curry goat and white rum, is an invitation and blessing for crowds to gather. This is what would have caused the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

I understand that the parties are now gearing up for local government elections. It is too much to expect the Government to take responsibility for the proliferation of infections and deaths in recent weeks; but for the upcoming local government elections, will there be a repeat of the jubilant campaign crowds, and a louder explosion of COVID-19 cases and deaths?

If so, it will not be the first time that Jamaican politicians have a lot to answer to.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and developmental scientist. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.