Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Social distancing goes viral – and Harris is peeved

Published:Thursday | March 26, 2020 | 12:28 AM
Wilfred Duckworth, 95, says he rarely leaves his house for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.
Wilfred Duckworth, 95, says he rarely leaves his house for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.

With ‘social distancing’ the new buzzword in the COVID-19-era Jamaica, 68-year-old Harris Smith has more problems on his hands with the lockdown ordered on the elderly to limit the spread of a pandemic.

The Fletchers Land, central Kingston, resident has a single hustle to generate income: buying, refilling, and reselling second-hand car batteries. But the novel coronavirus – with global infections nearing 470,00 and deaths topping 21,000 – has cost him company and money.

Concerns about the virus have redefined social relations in Jamaica and the world, with new touch-conscious norms drawing furrowed eyebrows, wary expressions, and arms-length greetings. But Smith, who said the outbreak “makes me get nervous bad”, said he just is no longer feeling the love. In fact, the aversion to social interaction reminds him of a cholera outbreak decades ago.

“Me buy second-hand batteries and recharge them, but the people at the car marts and around town naw mek mi come inna dem place.

“Di people dem seh, ‘No, sah.’ The other day a man seh, ‘Don’t even knock mi door. Check me back a next time,’” he told The Gleaner.

The cash crunch caused by COVID-19 has put a damper on his gig, with implications for his bread and butter. Literally.

“Me just want some money fi buy food put inna mi house. Once me get that, mi good,” he said, adding that he wanted to live for another two decades.

“... It affects me bad because I don’t have any money.”


Smith is one of thousands of Jamaicans aged 65 or older who are living on the margins and who are expected to abide by a government stipulation to work from home – if at all – to avoid contracting SARS-CoV-2, which has a relatively high fatality rate among elderly people, especially those with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

Those aged 75 or older have been ordered to stay home. Period.

Smith hopes to be the beneficiary of a raft of state measures aimed at easing the displacement and despair of poor and elderly Jamaicans.

Osburne Stewart, 88-year-old resident, also from Fletchers Land, was chirpily confident that he would ride out the COVID-19 storm, explaining that his daughter in the United States has ensured he has enough supplements and medication to bolster his immunity. Stewart said that he tries to avoid contracting the virus by not going outside. If he does, he said: “I keep myself to myself. I talk to one or two people, but not much,” he said.

“Mi listen to the news and mi feel bad about it, but I try to keep myself perfect and learn off what I hear.”

Ninety-year-old Christobell Rodgers, who is visually impaired, expressed little concern about the virus or having to stay inside, saying that her faith in the Supreme Being was intact.

“I feel God can take care of everything. Only God and his angels are taking care of me,” Rodgers said.

And the restrictions won’t affect 95-year-old Wilfred Duckworth, of Rum Lane in central Kingston, who said that he rarely leaves his house unless venturing to the bathroom or the barber. Hard times have caused his barber to shutter, said Duckworth, who is also visually impaired.

“I know about the virus because I have my radio on. I just listen what they say towards it,” he said.

“You have to put God before you. I have the liquid and carbolic soap.”