Jamaica’s tourism business is vital to its economic well-being, contributing about 1/3 of GDP. The sector depends heavily on passengers from the USA and UK, making up well over 3/4 of visitors (with Canada also important, ahead of the UK), so what is happening in those two countries should be of immense concern simply because, if we are to resume our tourism unchanged, we’d have to accept that the source of visitors would remain largely the same.
Our main concern is really the USA, because of both its numerical contribution and its closeness; we’re usually well served by US airlines into our two main airports.
If we are not afraid of what we learn about how the UK and USA are handling the pandemic, then we are not really paying attention.
When Jamaica reopened its borders on June 1, our new COVID19 cases, which had levelled off, started to rise again, and the bulk of the rise was from ‘imported’ cases mainly from the USA (and UK) as both returning Jamaicans and foreigners came to the island. The reopening not only caused an increase in cases, but also put the health facilities under immense pressure, and promises of test results within 3 days were shown quickly to be unsustainable and we now have an acknowledged backlog of 2 weeks. Given that our quarantine protocol stipulates 14 days, it means that many can come, be tested, quarantine, leave without knowing their results. Worse still, they can come, not abide by quarantine or isolation or no-circulating rules, without the benefit to them or us of a result, and asymptomatic or not, we have a body of people readily infecting the local population.
Personally, I don’t see that we should take that risk and advocated pre-testing of arrivals, from wherever or whomever, to help defray the burden on us, as well as offer the best health protection. We were slow to introduce pre-testing, accepting that it has flaws in terms of how valid the test can be as time passes, but it also would have helped us contain costs of testing on arrival, which is amongst the things putting our health sector budget under immense pressure.
Our politicians have not decided to go fully for pre-testing, though have now requested pre-testing from those coming from four states where the pandemic seems to be running riot, with high totals and increasing new cases in startling numbers—Arizona, Florida, New York and Texas. Truth is, cases are rising in 46 of 50 states and almost the whole country is ‘hot’, as the chart (through July 11) shows:
For much of the pandemic, a large share of US cases have been centered around New York City, but things have levelled off in the city and state. But, when you look at the data for states, you should shudder that some near the top in numbers are seeing new cases treble over the past three weeks:
News reports explain why, with much of the policy in chaos and much of the country in apparent denial that the pandemic is real and that the infection can only stay rampant if people insist on gathering in masses and not wearing masks. That those aspects of basic protection have taken on partisan political colour is additionally scary with notions like ‘real Americans don’t wear masks’.
In the last few days, one of the main reasons for that defiance, the president himself, seems to has changed, as he donned a mask for the first time, in public.
I have watched the implosion in the USA with amazement, as I imagine have many others. But, it need not have descended to this. Both the USA and UK were regarded as being the ‘best prepared’ for a pandemic, but have failed miserably in their response. The were ranked 1 and 2 last October on the Global Health Security Index. In Time’s report, the reasons are clear (my stress):
‘There is an eerie similarity in the appalling political decisions made by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson—two right wing “illiberal populist” leaders who believed their nations were invulnerable, generally rejected science, and turned inwards and away from multilateralism. Their parallel decisions consigned many of their citizens to the grave.’
‘American and British exceptionalism during COVID-19 reached a peak when both countries ignored the WHO’s guidance on how to prevent coronavirus transmission. The WHO urged all nations to focus on “track and trace”— identifying and isolating every case and tracking and quarantining anyone exposed.’
The UK has seen a series of dithering decisions and too-late responses that keep leaving the population exposed, the latest of which relates to mask wearing, where “common sense” is being urged on wearing masks in shops, rather than making it mandatory, in the face of ample evidence that sense is not at all common. The reopening of pubs last weekend was such a frenzied affair that it was quickly reversed in several areas.
For me, one of the clearest examples of what the USA has refused stubbornly to accept is in the follow graph, which shows that it was on track with the EU to stabilize new cases but has now seen a second phase of the same intensity as before it stabilized (the angle of the increase is essentially the same).
But, if you are against science and want to make up your own story about what is really going on, which has largely been the USA and UK cases, then none of this will matter. However, for us, it matters a huge amount and we ignore it at our peril.