I’d be lying if I said I was not impressed by the display of leadership and mangement displayed by the Jamaican government so far during the COVID19 pandemic. I would not give them an A, but a B+ seems fair. The reasons for the lower grades are mainly about timing:
- Delaying closing our borders to incoming arrivals, mainly by air, especially when it was clear that countries from where we received the bulk of visitors (the UK and USA) were mishandling their domestic responses to the pandemic in ways that were internationally dangerous.
- Allowing an influx of arrivals into the island at a time when the nature of the crisis was crystal clear (around mid-March), and not insisting those arrivals went into government quarantine but were allowed to leave the airport. We have since spent over three weeks trying to trace those people–potential importers of infection–and so far, 4500 of 5500 have been traced. Whatever the civil rights of the situation might have been, it was borderline reckless to let the go freely about their way.
But, here’s the rub. Jamaica was ill-prepared (like many countries) but in different ways: we have a long legacy of social and economic problems that we have refused to address and they are now ready to bite us where it really hurts. I’m just going to list a few and you can figure out where they may lead:
- Underinvestment in technology in schools, so that the already uneven education system was made more so when schools were forced to go virtual.
- Failure to address obvious urban housing issues, based on the rampant spread of informal housing with overcrowding and inadequate provisions of amenities, as a direct outcome of their unplanned nature. (Whether these were ‘natural’ breeding grounds for crime is also relevant.) Many know that these were in part tolerated because they provided a certain dependable political base for both parties. Simply put, we have a huge cluster of people who cannot practice #socialdistancing in many meaningful way indoors and whose usual escape was the streets but that is being denied by imposing curfews. This is a tinder box waiting to explode, in my opinion.
- Failure to deal with taxi and minibus operators (and I’m not going to fine comb it by saying which with the group are the main culprits–we know the problems as seen daily). The fear and mayhem that this visible minority is able to impose on the majority of road users as well as certain enterprises (eg gas stations) is intolerable. No excuse! That we have a category of illegal operators that are fundamental to the operations of the sector merely exposes the mental corruption that goes hand-in-glove with actual corruption that allows this to happen in plain sight. The way of life for these operators has been allowed to develop unchecked and we can only rue the fact that instituons were too weak or unwilling to address it. In contrast to many other countries, Jamaica is somewhere that private passenger vehicle (PPV) operators could easily be classed as a danger to society. It’s hard to find examples elsewhere in the world of PPV operators fleeing from police, fighting police, and willfully endangering the lives of passengers, yet continuing to operate with near impunity. Jamaicans live with many insane situations, but this one for the national issuance of strait jackets.
One possible good outcome from a new standstill in economic and social life is that there’s a chance for a hard reset, and some areas of Jamaican life would do well to have the planning for that advanced, so that the ‘new normal’ is not just ‘as you were’.