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Breaking into the Independence Day holiday, the PM held a surprise digital press briefing last night. It should have been obvious that it would deal with the recent sharp increase in COVID19 cases on the island, not naming a date for general elections.

To make the point, he stated that 30 news cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours, the amongst the most on any day. We’d already seen a sharp rise in hospitalizations earlier in the week.

To mark growing concerns, it had been announced earlier that a community in Clarendon, Sandy Bay, would be quarantined.

This had been triggered after two cases were admitted to hospital and community surveillance noted extensive non-adherence to health protocols with crowds gathering without face masks and social distancing.

That’s been a persistent theme in recent weeks, and many anecdotal expressions of concern pointed to the feeling that for many ‘COVID nah keep’ (ie the virus risks have passed).

During his briefing, the PM added that Church Corner (ironically named), a community in St. Thomas, would be quarantined for 14 days from later in the evening.

What has caused problems in that rural community is a familiar story of people arriving on the island and roaming around without regard to the health protocols, even though supposed to be under quarantine. In this area, we heard of an infected person traveling from St. Catherine to St. Thomas to be prayed for and gatherings of people without much regard for health protocols. In addition, a pastor held a ‘convention’ in a building that had no protocols on numbers, masks, sanitization stations, etc. Out of those incidents, some 28 infected cases had been reported.

These quarantined areas will see limited movement within, and have to live with the added restrictions of designated shopping days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) during the period, and only essential trips during the day, eg to get medicines from nearest locations.

This was the more recent backdrop for the PM stressing that the country is moving dangerously close to the threshold where a lockdown may have to be reimposed.

His tone got more frustrated as he went through the numbers and ended with the Jamaican stricture that ‘If you cyaa hear, you mus’ feel’ (ie no pain, no gain).

So, the country will go into a new phase from early next week, likely Tuesday, as consultations with main stakeholders have yet to be completed, and it’s a holiday weekend. In that regard, the PM did not suggest any curtailment of enjoyment, but the message was clear that people need to take the health protocols seriously.

The problems with outdoor entertainment have been well-noted, and the minister for local government met with key stakeholders on Thursday. Entertainments have suffered immensely, marked as such by the fact that the Independence celebrations were virtual, ending just before the media briefing.

I don’t know if many watched the firework display on TV or a device; we were focused on the briefing.

Many will say ‘You brought this on yourself, and ignorance and willfulness are now showing that selfish behaviour is costing everyone their liberty’ or words to that effect. Tougher measures to enforce and prosecute are on their way—‘Hear, hear! many will say.’

So, the day ended with a sombre tone, but not a message that surprised many. The recurrence of large numbers of new cases has occurred in many countries, and nearer to home, The Bahamas reintroduced at 14 day lockdown earlier this week. The risk was always there that once borders reopened that would signal a change and it was then a matter of how personal responsibility would be embraced. In our communities, we’re also dealing with long-standing belief that prayer and church gatherings would heal all ills, and rather than use standard health facilities, people would revert to ‘tried and tested’ homemade remedies. If any of that is working, it’s not doing so without also spreading infection.

There’s a sense of seething anger in the area, because many have made immense personal sacrifices to try to keep the pandemic under control and it’s again evident that but for a few all of that could be wasted, or for very little. If any of that anger starts to spill over, we’ll see how far that runs. Many people are frightened by the virus, but also know that in many areas, ignorance and superstition reign and drive people towards ostracizing those who may have symptoms. That easily explains why people don’t present themselves at hospitals earlier. But, that must change.