Holness slammed for crisis as data show pandemic roared in July and August
One year after Prime Minister Andrew Holness rode a wave of unparalleled popularity this century to retain political power, his administration has been given a failing grade by pundits for its management of the coronavirus pandemic. That verdict...
One year after Prime Minister Andrew Holness rode a wave of unparalleled popularity this century to retain political power, his administration has been given a failing grade by pundits for its management of the coronavirus pandemic.
That verdict has been bolstered by staggering data on an explosion in COVID-19, with August’s infections alone representing 22 per cent of the 69,054 cases dating back to March 2020.
Holness’ decision to reopen the entertainment and events industry on July 1 has been widely criticised, with the month registering a meteoric fatality rate of 4.4 per cent, with 148 deaths out of 3,337 cases.
The genesis of the spike has been traced to mid-July, consistent with the 14-day incubation period of the virus.
Exactly 12 months after Holness’ Jamaica Labour Party swept 49 seats in the House of Representatives in the September 3 general election, political analyst Dr Paul Ashley says that someone should be held accountable for the oxygen crisis that has left hospitals starved of the life-saving gas.
“A government that cannot find oxygen for its people should be voted out. If you don’t have oxygen, you are dead,” Ashley, an attorney-at-law, charged.
The first real test of the Holness administration’s stewardship will come at the next local government elections, which were deferred up to February 27, 2022.
A hair-raising 250 COVID-19 deaths occurred in August, with another 60 fatalities still under investigation, said Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, national epidemiologist. Scores of other deaths reported in August occurred months earlier.
August 26 was the deadliest day for the month, with 20 persons succumbing to the COVID-19.
However, the 296 COVID-19-related deaths for March outstripped August’s.
Data from the Ministry of Health and Wellness obtained by The Gleaner showed that another 20 deaths in March are under investigation.
With the country recording a total of 69,054 COVID-19 cases as at September 2 and a total of 1,568 deaths as a result of the disease, the ministry is reporting that the overall (2020 to 2021) COVID-19 case death rate is 2.3 per cent.
The death rate in August (1.6 per cent) plunged only because infections soared almost fivefold, month-on-month, to more than 15,300.
The Government’s decision to give the green light to parties has been cited by critics as the fuel for the spike, which has doomed hopes of a resumption of face-to-face classes in September.
That now hinges on the success of a so-far spotty vaccination campaign, which has seen 550,010 doses administered since March 10, 2021. More than 145,000 persons have been fully vaccinated, or around five per cent of the population.
Speed and compliance will be key to the 65 per cent target of herd immunity by March 2022 if take-up accelerates as it has over the last two weeks, with tens of thousands receiving their shots.
Confidence in the administration’s management of the pandemic appears to have dipped in Holness’ second consecutive term as prime minister, a contrast to the pre-election opinion poll fervour that gave the Government high marks.
However, Lloyd B. Smith, political commentator and former parliamentarian, argued that the administration had dropped the ball on several occasions.
He said that the Government was not sufficiently proactive and became indecisive in trying to find the right balance between keeping the economy afloat while guarding its health mandate.
“I think it could have been managed better,” he said.
Health infrastructure has for decades been under-resourced and has buckled under the weight of record hospitalisations.
“Hence we see what the end result has been up to this point in time.
“In terms of the management of the COVID pandemic, things have gone awry,” Smith said.
However, he believes that there is still hope, noting that he sees “Mr Holness now beginning to eat crow and accepting the fact that he has to rewind, as we say, and come again.”
Elaborating on the recent oxygen crisis, Ashley told The Gleaner that it cannot be business as usual.
He expressed alarm that after the major hospitals suffocated from an oxygen shortage in March, the country faces a more dire situation five months later.
Ashley said that with Industrial Gases Limited having a monopoly on the production and distribution of oxygen locally, the Government should “nationalise the plant and put the army in charge and expand the plant and run that thing like hell because oxygen is critical”.
“We are hoodwinked into believing that water is life. You can live without water for many days; you can’t live without oxygen – oxygen is life,” he said.
Ashley lamented that for every emergency case that is rushed to hospital, doctors should have oxygen on standby should there be the need for it.
“When nurse a dead because they don’t have enough oxygen, something is radically wrong with how the country is governed,” he said, alluding to conflicting reports of Diagrea Cunningham’s passing at the Cornwall Regional Hospital on Monday.
The political analyst cautioned that if one American tourist dies owing to the lack of oxygen, Jamaica’s tourism sector would suffer serious negative repercussions.
Ashley contended that the families of persons who died owing to a lack of oxygen in the hospitals should consider suing the Government.
“The fact that there was a shortage of oxygen and people died during that shortage period, it is really serious, you know. They can file an action against the Government,” he said.