Thu | Dec 3, 2020

Garth Rattray | Do not relax anti-COVID-19 measures for Christmas

Published:Monday | November 16, 2020 | 12:06 AM
In this 2019 file photo, people are seen in downtown Kingston shopping for Christmas. Amid speculations of relaxing COVID-19 protocols, there are concerns of spike in the cases should there be easing of anti-COVID-19 measures.
In this 2019 file photo, people are seen in downtown Kingston shopping for Christmas. Amid speculations of relaxing COVID-19 protocols, there are concerns of spike in the cases should there be easing of anti-COVID-19 measures.

There is official talk about opening up [the country] for Christmas. Jamaicans want to come home to visit and make merry with relatives and friends. People want to go out and about. Businesses want to earn meaningful income, and people want to have a grand time. However, we need to bear in mind that we are living with and dying from a very dangerous pandemic. As things stand, we are unprepared for any relaxation during the Christmas season.

I am not going to quote morose and frightening figures, because that would only rub salt into the gaping wound. Given our knowledge of the 1918 Spanish Flu, our scientific and communications advancement, and our familiarity with the prevention of viral infections, when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are messing up ‘bigly’.

Here in Jamaica, we started off doing extremely well; so much so that we earned worldwide recognition and applause for our efforts and success in controlling the pandemic. But then, several things went horribly wrong. The celebratory atmosphere during the ‘Emancipendence’ period broke our stride and led many to forget about the seriousness of the potentially deadly virus. Additionally, the general election saw some constituents mixing and mingling without protection. It certainly didn’t help matters that several politicians endangered themselves, others and, most of all, set very bad examples by joining in with the customary pre-election ‘pan y circo’ (superficial appeasement).

Adding to the cumulative circumstances that led to our loss of control was the need to reopen our ports to returning residents and foreign visitors who provided essential income. The system suffered further deterioration because of the very obvious lack of resources to properly monitor everyone entering the island. The virus became unrestrained. Infection and death rates rose sharply. Appeals for “personal responsibility” have been falling on many deaf, recalcitrant and very ignorant ears.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A HURRICANE

The pandemic has taken on the characteristics of a powerful hurricane – it is acting like an uncontrollable force of nature. Consequently, we have been receiving daily casualty and fatality figures. The authorities are doing more score keeping than intervening. There is hope that the curve will soon flatten temporarily until another wave hits. This is the natural course of events; this is how the pandemic behaves when it has free rein within a population.

In countries where Herculean and innovative efforts are put into making the curve almost flat or flat, extensive resources are put into widespread testing, tracking, documenting, quarantining /isolating, educating, monitoring, enforcing and assisting their citizens. COVID-19 has declared war on Jamaica and we are losing badly. Our casualties and fatalities are mounting; and there are far more victims than we realise.

Rampant non-compliance is literally everywhere, and the prevailing sentiment is that the Government has given up trying to alter the course of events. We need educational campaigns designed to reach people in every sector of our society.

We need to recruit leaders, authority figures, celebrities and famous personalities to our noble cause. We need toll-free hotlines, manned by volunteers, where citizens can call in for advice, counselling and assistance.

Since the Jamaica Defence Force is for defending our citizens from invaders, the Government should borrow army cadets from training and deploy them, along with enlisted soldiers, to flood our streets daily to fight this invading virus, not the citizens. The role of these ‘COVID Marshals’ would be to provide constant uniformed reminders to encourage citizens everywhere to adhere to distancing, hygiene and, especially, properly worn masks.

In the event that individuals engaged in business and/or business places refuse to follow the anti-COVID protocols, the ‘COVID Marshals’ would call in a report to the Ministry of Health and Wellness. That government authority would either warn or shut down the offending business for a three-day sanitation exercise at the expense of the owner/operator. This technique would be very effective is assuring adherence to anti-COVID-19 measures.

A reputable economist opined that governments that do not invest heavily in testing, tracing, enforcement of quarantines and care packages will end up spending much more on caring for victims and on rebuilding their devastated economy from scratch. Jamaica should take heed.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.