Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Garth Rattray | COVID-19 won’t just ‘sink in’, we must do more

Published:Tuesday | March 9, 2021 | 12:05 AM
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Jamaica, there is a definite need to reiterate the key messages to the wider population; primary among them is to adhere to the COVID-19 protocols and stay home as much as possible.
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Jamaica, there is a definite need to reiterate the key messages to the wider population; primary among them is to adhere to the COVID-19 protocols and stay home as much as possible.

When COVID-19 broke loose and spread rapidly across the globe, Jamaica was doing extremely well and even garnered international praise for how well we controlled the curve. Our Government carried out targeted restrictions and curtailed the influx of visitors, with good effect.

But then, returning residents and visitors were allowed back in. The precautions at our ports of entry were circumvented by many. People registered one telephone and used the other to get around, gave erroneous or fictitious addresses, paid corrupt public officers so that they would not be tracked, and blatantly ignored the quarantine procedures for visitors. They either accepted visitors at their places of abode or visited whomever and wherever they wished.

Going forward, we must ensure that visitors and returning residents adhere strictly to the rules and regulations. Sadly, we did not hire enough staff to closely monitor and enforce the quarantined visitors and returning residents. We must hire needed staff, because it will cost us much more in economic losses, sickness, and deaths in the long run.

In order to save money, we concentrated on pursuing the disease instead of going after the virus. Countries that do better are the ones that spend money on widespread testing; but we had innumerable excuses ranging from the need to train technicians, the lack of reagents, the paucity of expensive testing equipment and inadequate locations for doing the analyses. However, when foreign concerns made it mandatory for their returning vacationers to be tested, we somehow organised more testing. We still need more widespread and random testing to chase down this terrible plague.

The campaigns aimed at sanitisation, distancing and mask wearing are having very limited effect on our people. All across the island, the majority of citizens are ignoring anti-COVID-19 measures. Little wonder that our infectivity rate was a whopping and scary 40 per cent recently. We need a lot more public space messaging. We need strong messages on TV screens,, large and small billboards in public squares, the sides of public buses, taxi cabs, utility poles, the widows of business places, and much more on prime-time TV. We need to inundate the country with these messages in the same way that politicians do come election time. Any less is inadequate. Politicians use donations to advertise, so should we.

COVID-19 MARSHALS

Why don’t we have COVID-19 marshals everywhere? It’s something that I’ve been agitating for since mid-2020. Expecting ‘personal responsibility’ is a pipe dream; our Disaster Risk Management Act needs sharp teeth and fangs. Because funding is the perennial outcry, I, and many others like me, would gladly volunteer. We should also deploy the military to constantly encourage citizens to sanitise, distance themselves and wear their masks properly. I’ve been promulgating that we are at war and under attack, our country is being invaded, this is what the Jamaica Defence Force is for.

Regarding Ivermectin, until there’s optimal vaccination, what harm can it do if physicians are allowed to prescribe it as they see fit? This anti-parasite drug is believed to have significant antiviral/anti-inflammatory properties, but its use is being restricted to ‘appropriate doctors’ for moderately to severely ill COVID-19 patients. But it is most effective when taken prophylactically or early in the disease process (before the cytokine storm). Ivermectin is cheap, does not have tachyphylaxis and has been proven safe for decades. Ivermectin deserves a fair shake; it should not be prejudged by the performance of hydroxychloroquine or remdesivir.

Our people are suffering; 30 per cent are getting post-acute sequalae and others are dying from COVID-19. We are not seeking repurposing or permission for off-label use, all we need is to have Ivermectin available, even under its anti-parasitic indication. Otherwise, desperation will encourage black market and fake/dangerous products.

Finally, in order to encourage vaccination, the Government should offer meaningful incentives to vaccinated citizens. While observing COVID-19 protocols and until we achieve herd immunity, give them access to athletic events, entertainment venues, easy travel, restaurants, places of worship, and so on. If Jamaica is left behind, we will probably be blacklisted. Our tourist industry will be jeopardised.

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