Tue | Jul 7, 2020

Orville Taylor | Code V for vulnerable

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:27 AM

Of course, the poster boy is a Covidiot! Not because he exercised his free speech to vilify the prime minister and police, but because he was on the street during the hours of the curfew, adding to the health crisis and encouraging others to do so. True, I have deep sympathies for those who live hand to mouth, ‘rerk’ in the informal sector, and cannot operate their neighbourhood stalls during the restriction.

Many have no Internet, and the only web at home has the cob prefixing it. Moreover, when your house is so small that you have to go outside just to change your mind, the only respite is the yard or street side. Police officers know this because like most of us, the majority of them were born in households with these demographics.

Days later, there is a high degree of compliance. Many streets are empty during the curfew period, and even the dogs appear to be afraid. A curfew is no joke. COVID-19 is more contagious than a misunderstood Bible passage and spreads faster than a bad reputation. Beyond the clear sociological lesson which is taught when deviants breach norms and are to be sanctioned, the main concern is that the irresponsible behaviour of a few daredevils doesn’t only imperil them, but more important, it endangers those on the front-line of the response.

This cruel disease preys on the ‘vulnerable’, a category with strange bedfellows. Data already points to those persons with ‘underlying medical conditions’ and the ‘elderly’, although any Homo sapiens can get it at any time. It knows no colour, creed, class, political preference, or religious status. Both sinners and saints will be equally affected, and pastors are just as prone to being charged as the young men who taunted the police. Our vulnerable include police officers, nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, and all other medical personnel.

What makes the disease so scary is not the mortality rate. In fact, Ebola (EVD) has a much higher fatality ratio. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that “as of 31 March 2020, a total of 3,453 EVD cases were reported from 29 health zones … of which 2,273 cases died”, an overall case fatality ratio of 66 per cent. Furthermore, 171, or five per cent, were healthcare workers.

Interestingly, the WHO complains that it “… has not received funding for the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since December 2019. An urgent injection of US$20 million is required to ensure that response teams have the capacity to maintain the appropriate level of operations through to the beginning of May 2020. If no new resources are received, WHO risks running out of funds for the Ebola response before the end of the outbreak.”

It is not a matter of my digging out the black side of the global health crisis, but there is something very pungent here. Click and read.https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331641/SITREP_EVD_DRC_2....

Still, COVID-19 is here and directly affecting us, and we have to take care of our own first. Thankfully, its fatality ratio, globally, where most of the patients are short on melanin, the mortality rate is five per cent. Of the 1,015,466 persons who have been tested, 53,190 have died and 212,229, or 20 per cent, have recovered. Of the 750,047 active cases reported to the WHO, 95 per cent, or 712,351, are mild while 37,696, or five per cent, are critical.

REAL DANGER

The real danger lies in the fact that unlike Ebola, where one has to be in the relative proximity of the patient and most likely touch them or their fluids, COVID-19 doesn’t only stay for a while on surfaces, but it can travel short distances in the air. Because it affects a large number of persons in a short period of time, it has the potential to kill lots of people because of the sheer quantities.

Therefore, if we keep the numbers relatively small by the methods we have been using, including limited physical contact, curfews, sanitising, and restrictions on large gatherings, fewer persons will get it. Thus, the number of deaths will not be catastrophic although these statistics mean nothing when we lose a single member of our family or a dear friend.

However, there is something that we are overlooking as we prescribe the preventative measures. Poor people who live in small, overcrowded houses cannot self-isolate. The homeless cannot obey curfews. Persons who generally do not have reliable supplies of water cannot wash their hands often. The survey data report that the majority of persons in Jamaica who are poor are actually also measured as being employed. Therefore, how do working household heads, who cannot afford food and regular medicine, pay for sanitiser and alcohol when they are retrenched or laid off, and some employers either lack the desire or means to give them a financial cushion? Poverty can spread the virus faster than a rumour.

And as indicated, the police officers have to hold the line and need the maximum protective equipment. Yet if there is an aggressive arrest, you can bet your bottom dollar that viral particles will fly and no cloth covering the face of the officers can stop the particles that fly out with the ‘claat’ from the arrested. There is no riper time for a review of the constabulary’s welfare, illness, injury, and ‘death on active duty’ provisions.

Finally, we have the security guards who are neither fish nor fowl. Not labelled as an essential service and without the police’s power of arrest, they are vulnerable to being picked up by officer Dibble and Sojie. Worse, if those who are independent contractors in the true sense of the term fall ill, as some will, due to their increased exposure on the job, they have no entitlement to sick leave or medical redundancy under the relevant labour laws.

This is not merely a public-health challenge. It is a sociological crisis, which had better bring out the humanity in us.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.