I think everyone should be recording memories during this pandemic; for most, this is the most traumatic experience they’ve ever endured. In many ways, it mimics wartime, with restricted freedom, shortages, panic buying, signs of extreme kindness and unbelievable crassness. But, most people have not lived through wartime (though, in Jamaica, some have equated life in high crime areas as similar to living in war zones).
Our memories fade fast and traumatic events are often suppressed. Personally, I think the least one should do is notice what causes anxiety and joy—extremes of emotions. What you do to manage is also noteworthy.
Whatever news media were reporting in late-2019 (the Wuhan cluster of pneumonia was reported by China on December 31), I think most people were really unaware that a viral infection in China was spiralling out of control. That changed for me, at least, sometime in February, after I had made an impromptu long weekend trip to see my daughter at school in the USA. Even then, I had no notion of this disease breaking beyond parts of Asia (cases were being confirmed in Thailand in mid-January). That changed, for me, later in the month, when I travelled to the UK, where (perhaps because of the closer proximity to Asia) news of the virus was more prominent. By the time I was due to leave London on March 1, I was conscious of the risks to travel plans as restrictions were beginning to be put in place. That alone, would affect us as we had plans for March-April travel.
However, this realisation came as during Lent and I was already on a deep personal journey and didn’t have much extra mental space to play with. That’s a bit of a cop out because I was able to grapple with a few thorny Jamaican issues that had been bugging me for a while. Maybe, that was relatively easy because many of the issues had been rolling in my head and just needed organizing. But, my mind had also been on the more immediate issues facing the UK after it had its Brexit day on January 31.
Writing about an evolving situation is tricky as one has to try to step outside the experience while it’s happening. Anyway, I’m going to try to chronicle a little. I suspect along the way it’ll change but let me get started, without further ado.
March began with plans for the Spring. I had just come back from London and was aware of the ‘novel’ coronavirus risk from media coverage during my stay abroad.
I was expecting some kind of health screening when I left the UK and entered the USA, albeit in-transit, but neither occurred. I did not get any specific screening in Jamaica, but the concern then was travel from China, mainly. So, with a few concerns about how seriously the spread of the virus was being taken, I decided to do some self-isolation, low-key, for 2 weeks. I went out, but really just the minimum, I thought, except to play golf twice, and then I quickly applied what was then the sanitization protocol of disinfecting surfaces and other things touched–car handles, golf cart, golf clubs, etc. and remove clothing and shoes used outdoors.
Our daughter was due home from school during the first week of March, and I went to the airport to collect her. She came through without any health screen as far as she had noticed.
She’d made plans for an American schoolmate to visit JAMAICA for a week and another American schoolfriend not long after; they were due to stay at our home.
So, in the first half of March there was no concern about things like social/physical distance, but more about how contact and hygiene were important.
My wife was due to attend the IDB annual meetings in Barranquilla, Colombia, later in the month, and I was due go with her for company and we’d visit Cartagena. Side trips were planned as were official activities. I was due to fly via Panama; she was going via Miami. We were hearing noises that travel might be compromised and we were readying ourselves for cancellations. Last year’s meetings in China were cancelled at short notice after the USA threw a hissy fit over Venezuela’s representation. A very expensive decision that was for me!!! 😦
We’d arranged for my wife’s mother and an aunt to visit from The Bahamas and stay while we were away to give more ‘parental support’ to a household of teenagers.
Things started to intensify in Jamaica during the first week of March. On March 3, the government issued a travel advisory, giving background on the health crisis and reminding of the restrictions that had been put in place:
‘On 30 January 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC).
Subsequently, on the 31 January 2020, Jamaica placed a travel restriction on all persons who have been in China in the 14 days prior to arrival in Jamaica. On the 27 February 2020, the travel restrictions were expanded to include South Korea, Iran, Singapore and Italy. Only persons who are Jamaican Nationals or non-Nationals with permanent resident status or marriage exemptions will be landed. These persons will be subject to immediate quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.
Individuals returning from any of these countries who have been granted landing privileges and who show any symptom of the COVID-19 would be placed in immediate isolation. Quarantine facilities for these persons would be designated by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and persons would be required to adhere to all restrictions, in line with provisions under the Quarantine Act. Isolation facilities are operational at public hospitals.’
WHO declared COVID19 was a pandemic on March 11, the first pandemic since H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009.
Up through mid-March, we knew the global situation was worsening but on Friday, March 13, the Jamaican game changed, when Prime Minister (PM) declared the island a disaster zone and that nursing help would be sought from Cuba. The PM also declared he would invoke the powers of section 26(2) of the Disaster Risk Management Act, and put two communities in Bull Bay, St. Andrew (Seven Miles and Eight Miles) under immediate quarantine, deploying JCF and JDF.
Then, things started to move fast. From March 18, arriving travellers to Jamaica were expected to self-quarantine:
“For all persons entering from a country where there is internal spread of the virus [as well as] the containment and restriction of movement, if you have to move, then you [should] manage your movement in a way to reduce the possibility of you transmitting the virus to someone else, should you have the virus,”–Dr. Christopher Tufton (minister of health and wellness).
On March 20, 2020, the Government of Jamaica announced that effective 11:59PM on Saturday March 21, 2020, and for a period of 14 days in the first instance, Jamaica’s air and seaports will be closed to incoming passenger traffic. Outgoing passenger and cargo will be allowed.
On March 30, 2020, the government announced that effective April 1, 2020, from 8pm to 6pm, daily, there will be an all island curfew. The curfew would run for seven days and was scheduled to end at 6am on April 8, 2020. It was extended through the Easter weekend, and was intensified by limit access to beaches and rivers and the provision of major entertainment. So, the normally festive Easter weekend–important on the Christian calendar–was a muted public affair, with many churches extending their offerings of online worship and households celebrating as best they could. We watched and listened to several services, including one by The Pope. We had a wonderful late Sunday dinner and chilled for the rest of the day.
The government cranked up restrictions last night as a spike in positive cases due to a BPO in Portmore, St. Catherine, led to the decision to lock down the parish of St. Catherine from 5am this morning for seven days.
So, that brings us to one month of COVID19 restrictions. Tomorrow, I’ll look back to how lifestyles and attitudes adjusted during that time. Suffice to say, work and school are mostly happening at home, online. Contact with extended family is mainly online (Zoom is the in things) and pay phone. Journeys out are at a minimum. Only one person goes does shopping (with a few exceptions). So, far all remain healthy. Our household has two seniors in their 80s.