Wed | Dec 1, 2021

Alfred Dawes | COVID-19 solutions we need now

Published:Saturday | October 16, 2021 | 12:10 AM

We are collectively sick of this reality. Some physically, mentally, but all emotionally. As other countries slowly come out of the incessant lockdowns and death spikes from COVID-19, we find ourselves in our daily routines in a Kafkaesque existence. When will it end? When will there be another spike? How many more must die?

If this is a culling, then not only the old and the weak will have passed, but the weaker countries, too, will be left further behind in the post-COVID world. Yet in this darkness, there is hope that we can put this nightmarish era behind us, and very soon.

The National Disaster Commission was created to enable the top leadership of all who need to be involved in the collaboration for disaster planning and management. The commission brings together private sector, civil society, relevant ministries and state agencies, in a bipartisan approach. It meets to plan for hurricane season, etc.

It should be convened urgently under the chairmanship of the prime minister with the leader of the opposition in attendance to agree on the determination of a national approach to the management of this, the greatest disaster in several generations. It is at liberty to establish the relevant working subcommittees to work in public health, security, sanitation, finance, etc. A unified approach is needed and not token consultations and divisions as to who ought to be in charge of what. The task at hand demands more than just the input of the Cabinet and advisers.

The COVID-19 threat requires a carrot and stick approach – i.e., a reward and incentive for those who do and a tough approach to those who stubbornly won’t. If the Government, by far the largest employer, believes in a course of action that serves the interest of the majority, it must be determined in its execution, knowing that what it does sets the tone.

This is admittedly a tough stance. So that it does not become the source of adversarial reaction, the prime minister and the relevant teams must rally the leadership of our trade union movement, which becomes the precursor of meetings convened with staff in the trenches (nurses, teachers, doctors, civil servants, et al), in the search for amicable solutions to differences of opinions.

Issues pertaining to constitutional rights and freedoms should be considered by an appropriate legal group involving the attorney general, the minister of justice, the public defender and the Jamaican Bar Association. The group would advise on the constitutionality of contemplated measures and legislation.

The battle cannot be won by simply the juggling of curfew times. What is essential? Rigorous enforcement. Flaunting of the laws must have consequences, but our rights must not be abrogated in the name of public safety.

The emphasis has to be on increasing community engagement. Except for the Church, no one commands greater connection to the grassroots than political parties. Their machinery, when combined, can provide an islandwide system that involves JLP and PNP workers, working together to do a house-to-house canvas. This team can not only revolutionise the vaccination programme, but identity the at-risk youth lost in online classes.

As deeply divided as we are along party lines, we embrace our own political clans. There is no reason why the political machineries cannot be repurposed for saving the lives of supporters.

Among the most affected areas are tourism and the entertainment industry, yet the influence of the entertainers is primarily seen pushing antivax, anti-mask rhetoric. Is the message that relaxations can only come when the vaccines allow full crowd attendance at events lost on them? If their road to Damascus moment comes, would they use their creative skills to design jingles and songs that will help to push public acceptance? They need to help us and themselves with musical support. They made bleaching popular, after all.

The country must understand that we are all one in the fight for survival, not by saying so, but demonstrating in practice, so that there are no divisions among us.

AGGRESSIVE PUSHBACK AGAINST MISINFORMATION

The churches should be invited with the leader of the opposition also present to get their total engagement. So, too, should the service clubs – Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Optimists, JCC, et al. There should also be meetings with custodes who will engage the JPs at the parish level. Every sector must unite in chorus.

The private sector can donate advertising space, buttons and bumper stickers to carry the messages. Employers need to have clear policy guidelines and be guided in their duty in law to provide a proper environment at the workplace.

Corporate Jamaica can give discounts for items and the hotels expand their award of spaces to those who are on the front lines and desperately need a little breathing space.

Social media must not be allowed to be dominated by negative messages which go unanswered. There is no aggressive pushback against misinformation circulating freely. Rather than focus primarily on press briefings and media releases, challenge the anti-vaxxer, anti-masker trolls on social media and counter their often illogical arguments with facts. Facts that are needed by the truly vaccine hesitant who need only answers to legitimate questions to make a decision.

There are many uncertainties out there that are yet to be resolved. However, there is an incontrovertible truth in that, if we can unite as a nation, then the disastrous spikes that we have seen over the last 18 months shall not return.

- Dr. Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight loss surgeon, and medical director of Windsor Wellness Centre & Carivia Medical Ltd.; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-La-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and adawes@ilapmedical.com