Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Glenn Tucker | Sanctions for COVID-19 delinquents

Published:Thursday | October 15, 2020 | 12:09 AM
Glenn Tucker
Glenn Tucker
Residents gather outside a health centre with few of them wearing masks and none practising social distancing, despite a spike in the coronavirus cases in St Catherine.
Residents gather outside a health centre with few of them wearing masks and none practising social distancing, despite a spike in the coronavirus cases in St Catherine.
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Recently, an item on the evening news reported that police were attacked by residents of Seaview Gardens when they attempted to end a party attended by about 200 persons. This was in violation of guidelines requiring a nationwide lockdown at 8 p.m. Stones and other missiles injured some policemen, who were also verbally abused by the mob. About six per cent of the group were arrested.

Another news item showed Health Minister Tufton in Ocho Rios, where there is a worrying spike in COVID-19 numbers. He was trying to convince a woman to accept a mask he was giving her and to wear it. The defiant woman stood her ground and seemed to be telling the minister what he could do with his free mask. Part of my concern is the polite, ‘civilised’ way in which the Government is handling the resistance it is facing from sections of the society.

American Version of ‘Freedom’

This Government, in general, and Dr Christopher Tufton in particular, has been hailed, locally and internationally, for the excellent way it has managed this crisis. Why, we are wondering, would it squander this huge reservoir of goodwill for no good reason? It seems to be implementing an American version of ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ notions, again neglecting to realise that this is not working, even for America. If I am confusing anyone, let me try again.

The first cases of COVID-19 in the United States (US) and South Korea – two democratic countries – were confirmed on the same day, January 20, 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, South Korea had more COVID-19 cases than anywhere else in the world outside of China. Today, they have approximately 25,000 cases and 443 deaths. After adjusting for the 6.5-fold differences in populations, the US has suffered 296 times the number of cases and 474 times more deaths than South Korea. What explains this? Interestingly, South Korea’s public health strategies followed, slavishly, those developed and introduced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which, not long ago, was the go-to agency for guidance worldwide. But South Korea immediately introduced effective containment and mitigation strategies including fines of J$1.2 million and one year’s imprisonment for disobeying instructions. These were kept in place until new cases and deaths were practically non-existent.

The US was different. First, the president decided to downplay the seriousness of the virus, waiting weeks before mounting knee-jerk and fragmented responses. Later, mitigation strategies were tepid, with each state trying its own thing.

What is getting almost no exposure is the fact that the US created a Pandemic Emergency Response Task Force which was so efficient and comprehensive, the World Health Organization rated this agency No.1 in its ability to contain and mitigate future pandemics. It was President Donald Trump who, for reasons known only to himself, disbanded this agency in 2017 while politicising the CDC, causing it to lose its envied reputation of worldwide respect and admiration. The result is that these number-one positions are now replaced by other number-one positions – the number of cases (7.89 million) and deaths (216,000). Recently, the White House was closed. The president, his wife, members of staff and senators were COVID-19-positive. This just days after mocking his Democratic opponent for wearing a mask.

I thought that by this time, everyone, particularly those who deal with people, would know that Jamaica has a major problem with indiscipline. I have spoken to many persons who are not following the protocols regarding the way we are required to deal with this virus. They are aware, but do not think the rules are for them. I was most surprised, however, to learn, from a respected attorney, no less, that the police are not to blame because “... the necessary laws are not in place to empower the police to deal with delinquents appropriately”. Can this really be true?

Causes of Indiscipline

The causes of indiscipline are lack of communication, leadership and motivation. These have been delivered in abundance. Other causes are favouritism, weak enforcement of rules, and bad habits. Celebrities have spurned the guidelines on video with no consequences. And here, may I beg certain ministers, headed by Minister McKenzie, to stop the toothless threats. We are tired of hearing about “a certain prominent person who has a certain prominent club that is breaking all the rules, daily, that we are not going to allow this to continue”. We have been hearing this threat from Wappy King kill Fillup, minister. The Government had two excellent opportunities to make an example of two of our celebrities, and the inaction proved to the country how totally lacking in resolve the Government is in this matter. So stop blaming the police. It is the Government that has tied their hands behind their backs. It is OK to arrest Seaview folks because they can’t sing, and they clearly cannot run.

Despite its effectiveness in preventing infection, only 48 per cent of Americans wear a mask. Arguments about ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ are put forward as reasons why no action can be taken against them. May I say this to our lawmakers, ‘Freedom is not free’. Freedom is an entitlement earned by responsible citizens. And any ‘right’ that disturbs or distresses my neighbour, ceases to be a human right. Freedom plus indiscipline equals chaos plus destruction. Why are we still trying to inform the informed?

The time has come for strict sanctions. Minister Tufton is wrong when he says this spike was to be expected. It should not have happened. If the current number of cases, deaths and their trajectories continue, a coordinated national shutdown of sufficient duration, which was not achieved previously, may become necessary.

The world economy is on a tightrope. While OECD countries are, on average, seeing a GDP contraction of 7.6 per cent, forecasts for South Korea have been revised at only 0.8 per cent. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health crisis without precedent in living memory. It has triggered the most severe economic recession in nearly a century.

Some 100,000 Americans are predicted to die of the virus in the next 100 days if masks are not worn. I can assure this nation that if everyone in public wears a properly fitted mask, sanitises and practises social distancing, we can be on top of this virus in three weeks.

Glenn Tucker, MBA, is an educator and a sociologist. Email: glenntucker2011@gmail.com.