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Call to cushion blows on COVID’s most vulnerable

Published:Friday | November 5, 2021 | 12:08 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
A street-sweeper cleans up a section of Mona Road in St Andrew on Wednesday. After the coronavirus pandemic wiped out more than 100,000 jobs at its worst point, many workers have reclaimed positions as the economy regained ground.
A street-sweeper cleans up a section of Mona Road in St Andrew on Wednesday. After the coronavirus pandemic wiped out more than 100,000 jobs at its worst point, many workers have reclaimed positions as the economy regained ground.

A recent study has revealed that urgent action is needed to safeguard the gains achieved in the fulfilment of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and Vision 2030 Jamaica.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), and the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) presented a number of policy recommendations in its Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 and Policy Options in Jamaica report, which was released on Wednesday.

Among the recommendations are policies focused on social protection and improving the health and well-being of Jamaicans.

The Multidimensional Vulnerability Index found that the overall level of vulnerability experienced by Jamaicans as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis is very high.

Women, especially those who are unemployed and located in urban areas; households with monthly income of less than $50,000; residents of St Mary, Manchester, and St Ann; and persons with mental health illness were the critical vulnerable groups.

“The demand for social protection has increased exponentially, both in terms of the number of potential beneficiaries, as well as the depth of the need, and, consequently, the required benefits to meet the needs have to be reviewed,” a section of the report read.

It recommended further advocacy and financial support to increase coverage of the poor and vulnerable in society.

The UNDP noted that it can provide technical assistance to the finance ministry to earmark funds or reserves that could be made available in the event of future crises.

“These funds would be quickly mobilised and channelled to social protection immediately in response to a crisis. These funds could also be used to support an increased number of compassionate grants (stimulus packages), and the UNDP can also advocate the international community for debt relief and increased financial aid,” it said.

The report also noted that there needs to be increased support for public education to increase awareness of social-protection programmes in order to ensure that existing and potential beneficiaries are always able to access benefits.

Just under 3,200 respondents were interviewed during the period February 24 to April 13, 2021, and 300 small businesses surveyed.

Only 33.9 per cent of the respondents indicated that they are willing to be vaccinated, despite the fact that 77.4 per cent of them revealed that they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about getting infected with COVID-19.

SALISES director Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee said misinformation was the main cause for vaccine hesitancy.

“There has to be a very rigorous public education campaign, and we have to have an improvement in the uptake by the frontline workers. The medical people have to take it, so that the ordinary man in the street will see that it is okay to take the vaccine,” Henry-Lee said.

Among the policy options for health are the improvement in its quality as it relates to equipment, pharmaceuticals, and personal protective gear.

Henry-Lee reasoned that vehicles need to be procured with the necessary cold-chain storage capacity to support continuous mobile vaccination at the community level, coupled with increased public education to dispel the myths and underscore the importance of vaccination.

CAPRI Executive Director Dr Damien King said 150,800 jobs were lost at the lowest point of the pandemic.

“We have not seen anything like it in Jamaica’s history in such a short space of time, since they started collecting labour force data in the late 1950s. Interestingly, there was a tremendous amount of job growth over the previous seven years in Jamaica, essentially under the two IMF programmes, and the job growth and reduction in unemployment was about that number,” he said.

King added that all those gains were lost in the space of four months, but jobs have been returning and unemployment is on the decline.

Meanwhile, 46 per cent of businesses indicated that they experienced lower sales and that the pandemic caused logistical problems.

Businesses in rural areas reported the largest declines in revenue; and more than half of businesses reported that their operations would not survive more than six months if the situation remained the same.