Tue | Oct 20, 2020

Mark Wignall | Are we really that careless?

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2020 | 12:07 AM

Police officers attempt to get a crowd at Western Union offices at the Pavilion Mall to observe social-distancing protocols in May. There have been concerns raised about the adherence of COVID-19 protocols, especially mask wearing and social distancing, a
Police officers attempt to get a crowd at Western Union offices at the Pavilion Mall to observe social-distancing protocols in May. There have been concerns raised about the adherence of COVID-19 protocols, especially mask wearing and social distancing, as cases rise exponentially.
Richard Pandohie
Richard Pandohie
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I could have driven the mile-and-a-half round trip to the supermarket. Instead, I walked to a little shop about 300 metres away. It was Wednesday, and we wanted stewed peas and rice. The lady knew that I did it better than whatever it was she could cook up in that stew pot.

I walked into the little shop and greeted the young men, four of whom were packed into the little space between the door and the counter. I was wearing a mask. There were seven young men in total in and just outside the shop. None of them were wearing masks. I ordered the tin of red kidney beans and collected my change. Just as I was leaving, I said, “Gentlemen, I cannot tell you how to live your lives, and you can’t tell me how to live mine. But I just want to point out to you that too many of you packed in here talking up in each other’s face is potentially dangerous.”

One said to me, “Missa Wignall, big respect. None a wi right here so know anybody whey sick wid di virus, so right now, wi feel safe. Respect.”

I decided not to push it. Their reasoning would only make full sense if all people affected by COVID-19 were in public display and showed symptoms immediately after it was contracted. None of the youngsters even had a mask hanging under a chin.

I am still seeing people exiting route taxis with no masks. The drivers are also without any protection to the nose and mouth. So what is to be done?

We first need to appreciate that in hard numbers, less than 40 per cent of the registered electors voted on September 3. We may wish to remind ourselves that without formulating an equation in an effort to indicate how many of those who did not vote also supported Holness’ performance in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, even if we did so, at best, it would be an educated guess. That is, until we see the post-election polls.

So we are stuck with what we know. Jamaicans know, to a large extent, that we all need to protect ourselves, but from my talks with many at street level, they somehow believe that if ‘others’ do what is right, all will, in time, be okay. That is plainly dangerous.

RICHARD PANDOHIE MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING

The huge jump in COVID-19 cases and deaths has led some people to believe that Andrew Holness’ luck has run out. While that is not my position, I can understand why some people are beginning to question his ability to handle COVID-19 at crisis levels.

Jamaica may be its own worst enemy, in that this country did so well in tamping down the virus during months when many other countries were struggling with keeping it within containable limits. We have tried locking down small businesses like bars, barbershops, and beauty shops, and we have seen the horrible economic dislocations, even though many flouted the hurriedly pushed regulations. As the disease spread through large organisations, the Government was forced to tighten the screws on places like call centres and just about every property in the hospitality industry.

Now that the elections are out of the way and the Government knows that there is no way that the country can go into another shutdown, or a hurried version of a new one, it knows that the main arrow in its quiver is the hours that it can apply in keeping a set of highly undisciplined people under control.

It implores us to stick to the protocols of mask wearing, social distancing, and the constant washing of hands. The Government knows that many of our people are still acting like there is no pandemic stalking the land. What else can it do?

Recently, Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association president Richard Pandohie, who is also CEO of Seprod, urged the Government to move the nighttime curfew hour from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

According to Pandohie, COVID-19 has no cockroach qualities, in that it does not come out mainly at nights. The Seprod CEO struck a pragmatic tone in pointing out that among many who had jobs who had to rush from their workplaces and scurry to grab public transport to reach home before the curfew, they really had no time to buy home products or attend to other personal matters.

Plus, there is the really big spin-off in supporting small businesses whose best time is between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.

NEXT THREE MONTHS WILL BE CRUCIAL

I can appreciate that after six months of impressing upon our people the importance of mask wearing, social distancing, the constant washing of hands, and avoiding large gatherings, many of us are close to our breaking point.

PM Holness and his JLP MPs may find that it will be easier for their stock to head downward than for it to rise. Knowing that they cannot present any more keys in any lockdown mode, they will have to live with a country where our audaciousness tends to run far ahead of our ability to reason out what is best for us at the collective level.

PM Holness knows that he can move the goalposts in many directions. There is no NIDS in place, so even if he wanted to radically enforce regulations on any of the COVID-19 protocols, which include a fine, in the present regime, even an arrest would immediately head to a place where it would easily slip between the cracks.

At this time, a significant percentage of police personnel are sympathetic to small businesses opening an hour or so past curfew time. I regularly see the police slowly driving past, say, seven or eight people in a near huddle talking, laughing, and without masks.

What would they do? Stop, insist on getting names, and then what? Provoke a community uprising?

It is still early days yet, so I do not want to believe that Holness and the JLP administration, having passed the first paper with flying colours, have become jittery on the second and most important part of the examination. It is in another learning curve.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.