#COVID19Chronicles-236: November 30, 2020-Madness, they call it madness

William Shakespeare wrote a statement for Hamlet that is famous: “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” In short, Hamlet was saying he’s not totally mad, and there’s method in my madness.

I recommend reading this report in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Everyone can have their take on what the period since voting ended in the US presidential election has meant, politically, but I think it’s hard for anyone who is not a diehard partisan can see it as other than a public display of petulance by someone who has one of the most powerful leadership positions in the world.

Peter Wehner’s summary is on point, to me: “This story is a remarkable piece of journalism. It chronicles Mr. Trump’s descent into madness. America is fortunate to have survived this man — so broken and tortured, so damaged and dangerous, so cruel and detached from reality.” I think he’s absolutely correct to touch on the elements of derangement that have been evident to many.


#COVID19Chronicles-235: November 29, 2020-Guilt tripping

Travel guilt is real!

Several friends of mine are caddies at Jamaican golf courses, and they occasionally tell me stories about the generosity of foreign guests with whom they work. Now ‘tourism (or travel) guilt’ is a real thing.

How travellers deal with it may vary:

Whether travel itself is part of the solution, or spending, or donating, or being especially kind and tolerant, the traveller may feel some angst about what he or she is doing. In places like Jamaica, we see a lot of this guilt meted out in the form of kindness with a monetary tilt.

With many restrictions on movement during the COVID pandemic, it’s been clear that guilt about travel has risen. But, it can be what helps some keep sane. We know!

Funnily, for all of my own lack of need, I have been the beneficiary of it, when some foreigner ‘took pity on me’ and thought I’d need USD 100 pressed into my hand for doing my job as a volunteer, I also had pangs of guilt, but decided I’d accept the gift and do something good with it. It went to a charity.

However, it takes a certain level of pity, or generosity, or more money than sense to give away a US$400 golf club that looks brand new, plus a tip. Well, one of my friends messaged me today about the new ‘toy’ he’d received this way. 🙂 Some guests with whom he’d worked for several days, helping them to learn golf, decided they’d part with their prized putter and depart from the island with a clear conscience, I guess. It’s lovely!

I was fortunate enough for him to let me also have a little ‘play’ with the toy, and I really must reconsider my life choices and think if being a caddy is what I do from now 😉

#COVID19Chronicles-234: November 28, 2020-The west has gone ‘wild’ with cases

We decided to take a short staycation and plumped for Hanover. We usually prefer the rustic charm of Portland, which is where we spent Thanksgiving last year; all three of our daughters were in Jamaica from the USA. We had the bonus of my mother-in-law and her friend. This year’s COVID-affected trip was with just our teenager, plus a cousin and his family. We get day visits from a couple living in Montego Bay.

But, we’ve grown to enjoy some spacious spots in Hanover, which work well in terms of observing COVID protocols of distancing, so several groups can stay in one place but have ample room to exist apart from each other, coming together for meals, which can also be hosted with good spacing at the table, or using several tables.

We were enjoying our turkey dinner on Thursday and praised the parish of Hanover for being lowest for COVID infections: it was the last to report COVID infections. Then, I checked the thread for the evening’s ‘Press briefing and COVID conversations’, which I’d missed. It covered “COVID-19 Protocols at Christmas”:

Well, knock me down! Hanover is now the COVID epicentre!

The west has gone a bit ‘wild’, it seems.

The regional technical director at the Western Regional Health Authority, Dr Dianne Stennett Campbell, gave an assessment of the current situation:

An “uptick in cases in the western end of the island accounts for the overall increase in the country’s figure”.

She added, however, that the increase in cases likely represents local transmission, and at the same time pointed out that no “clear” link has been established with the tourism sector. That should make some sigh with relief as the country heads towards the ‘high season’ for foreign visitors. However, it’s not clear how travel will be affected during the current surge also seen in the USA (from where the bulk of Jamaica’s tourists come), though Thanksgiving travellers seems to have ignored official advice not to travel for this holiday, with about a million people passing through airports each day for the last week. It’s usually the busiest travel time for the USA. But, whether the willingness to jump on planes will be as strong when it comes to travel abroad, we’ll have to see.

Most countries are really in a ‘don’t fly’ category for the USA, sitting at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) ‘level 4’, very high risk–‘Travelers should avoid all travel to these destinations’.

Source: CDC

So, Jamaica has been added to that category, which irked some people, but it includes The Bahamas, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, for example. No countries are in level 3 (Travelers should avoid all nonessential travel to the following destinations). Only a few countries are now in levels 2 (moderate–Travelers at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid all nonessential travel) and only a few in level 1 (low–All travelers should wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet from people who are not from your household, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, and watch your health for signs of illness). Some Jamaicans may be miffed because some of our island competing destinations are in level 2 (eg Barbados and St. Lucia); while Anguilla sits in level 1.

Getting back to the west. Dr Dianne Stennett Campbell’s assessment continued: “Most of the cases we’re seeing are locally transmitted cases. We do have cases in the tourist sector, but we have not been able to establish clear pictures of whether it is transmission between visitors in our hotel sector and workers or staff members. Usually, it is from the home environment in terms of that transmission that happens locally. So we’re carefully watching that picture. It may change, but that is what we’re seeing right now.”

Up to yesterday, Hanover accounted for 218 (2%) of the total of 10,537 COVID-19 cases reported since March; Westmoreland, 363; Trelawny, 237; and St. James, 1,094 (>10%). So, Hanover may be showing a high rate of infection per head of population–it has the highest parish rate of active COVID cases per 100,000 residents, 62.1; with Clarendon being the lowest at 6.9 –but the totals are really small. St. James has higher rates but is also trending towards significant numbers, especially if one regards what its usually hustle and bustle in and around Montego Bay may mean for possible contacts from overseas travellers–a scalar issue.

#COVID19Chronicles-233: November 27, 2020-New Zealand and Australia reap COVID control dividend as record crowds watch rugby during pandemic

A recent Washington Posts headline blared ‘Australia has almost eliminated the coronavirus — by putting faith in science’:

The Washington Post wrote: ‘Several practical measures contributed to Australia’s success, experts say. The country chose to quickly and tightly seal its borders, a step some others, notably in Europe, did not take. Health officials rapidly built up the manpower to track down and isolate outbreaks. And unlike the U.S. approach, all of Australia’s states either shut their domestic borders or severely limited movement for interstate and, in some cases, intra­state travelers.

…most important, though, leaders from across the ideological spectrum persuaded Australians to take the pandemic seriously early on and prepared them to give up civil liberties they had never lost before, even during two world wars.

“We told the public: ‘This is serious; we want your cooperation,’ ” said Marylouise McLaws, a Sydney-based epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales and a World Health Organization adviser.

A lack of partisan rancor increased the effectiveness of the message, McLaws said in an interview.

The conservative prime minister, Scott Morrison, formed a national cabinet with state leaders — known as premiers — from all parties to coordinate decisions. Political conflict was largely suspended, at least initially, and many Australians saw their politicians working together to avert a health crisis.

Perhaps, most important, Australia decided to follow advice from health experts: ‘Australia’s national response was led by Health Minister Greg Hunt, a former McKinsey & Co. management consultant and a Yale University graduate. Hunt and Morrison worked with the state premiers, who hold responsibility for on-the-ground health policy, to develop a common approach to the pandemic.’

The pay-off for that was that a record number of people went to watch a sports event during COVID. The Guardian wrote ‘The whole city was gridlocked: Brisbane heaves as fans allowed back en masse’:

‘Suncorp Stadium’s official crowd at the State of Origin finale between Queensland and New South Wales was 49,155. It is believed to be a world record since Covid-19 shut down sport.’ Competition had resumed in May, about the time that professional football resumed in Europe:

The country had got COVID under control.

Beforehand, however, New Zealand had staged the Bledisloe Cup rugby match against Australia in mid-October, lifting restrictions to allow fans to attend—46,000 attended.

Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland, which re-entered lockdown in August following a small outbreak of coronavirus cases, were lifted at the start of the month to allow crowds to return to stadiums.

‘New Zealand has been widely praised for its approach to handling the coronavirus and has reported fewer than 2,000 total cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic began,’ CNN wrote.

From early October, it was planned to host matches in New Zealand with capacity crowds. Auckland was at a higher alert level than the rest of New Zealand for several weeks because of a small community outbreak of COVID-19, but moved to level 1 from the start of October.

All of this is in stark contrast with most of Western Europe, Latin America, and notably the USA–where COVID has spiralled out of control. As the Post wrote: ‘As North America, Europe, India, Brazil and other regions and countries struggle to bring tens of thousands of daily infections under control, Australia provides a real-time road map for democracies to manage the pandemic. Its experience, along with New Zealand’s, also shows that success in containing the virus isn’t limited to East Asian states (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) or those with authoritarian leaders (China, Vietnam).

Notable amongst president-elect Biden’s early contacts with world leaders has been one with NZ’s prime minister, who has offered her nation’s expertise and advice on COVID. All is far from lost for the USA, though much time and too many lives might have been needlessly lost.

#COVID19Chronicles-232: November 26, 2020-Giving thanks

In the USA, this week is usually when most people travel, to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family. In these COVID pandemic days, however, travel and mingling are less encouraged. Positive cases and deaths have been soaring in the USA during November.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) urged people not to travel, yet, the numbers going through airports last weekend through November 25 were the highest since March, over 1 million each day.

People seem determined to travel despite the high-level advice:

It’s not hard to understand: being together with loved ones and close friends has been hard for most of the year, and for most Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday is their national get-together, free from any religious associations that make holidays occurring in late-December a hodge-podge of competing claims. I also think that most people in the USA need a release of tensions that have built up immensely this year, but maybe more so in the USA heading into and continuing through their presidential elections, which should have concluded with voting on November 3. It has, however, become an extensive display of petulance by the incumbent President, claiming fraud and victory with only a set of blinded partisans try to dispute. (The popular vote was clear—over 6 million margin; the Electoral College count is clear—306 votes to 232, a margin the incumbent called a “landslide” when it was in his favour in 2016, even with nearly 3 million popular vote deficit, but he now calls “stolen”.)

Jamaica doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but some of its trappings have seeped into our culture—namely, shopping on ‘Black Friday’. But, many Jamaicans with strong US-ties do celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday and time to gather as families. (Remember, around 1 million ‘Jamaicans’ are in the USA, according to the 2010 Census; many Jamaicans have been and are schooled in the USA; returning residents from the USA are numerous.)

Also, my wife needs a break, not least from 9 hours of Zoom teleconferencing most days, so we’re taking a staycation over Thanksgiving; it fits with our youngest daughter being home from school for that holiday, and last year her older sisters living in the USA came to spend Thanksgiving with us in Portland (bringing some essential ingredients for the dinner :).

We cruised along the highways to the north coast.

SUV becomes true modern pack mule
Coastal view from highway in St. Ann

The car had become the true beast of burden, as it often does on our staycations—we know what we like to eat, so we leave little to chance on food and drink—and this time the passengers were fewer than on previous trips, so space for them was not totally at a minimum.

Traffic was normal, ie relatively light. Our car was laden with the makings of our Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, vegetables, salad, maraconi, cheese. Some debates were going on about the menu, especially desserts. But, the basics were set; Brussel sprouts seemed elusive. We would not be doing a fried turkey, as suggested by one of our local papers:

My wife asked the cook at our lodging if he knew how to make macaroni and cheese. That was not the right question; he needed to know how her mother made it, which he doesn’t, so let’s just accept he needs to be guided, carefully.

We made a chance discovery regarding dessert by having some pumpkin pudding bought from the famous ‘Pudding Man’ in Priory, St. Ann. A few slices of that would work a treat.

I’m not sure of the dinner schedule, as we’ve relatives due to arrive tonight. Meantime, I will settle into a Thanksgiving routine that has to be based around what happens in the USA. That means tuning into the traditional Thanksgiving NFL game between Dallas (‘Cowboys’, aka ‘America’s team’) and Washington (now ‘Football Team’, formerly ‘Redskins’)—an age-old and fierce rivalry—which will be on late-afternoon, with the Detroit Lions hosting the Houston Texans around 12.30pm.

I have half an eye out for visitors from the USA who have decided to leap on planes to come to Jamaica. I understand, but I also am leery of the spread of the pandemic surging out of control there and jumping here. Truth, though, foreign visitors have reportedly been amongst the best behaved group in terms of observing COVID protocols, and we know first-hand that no one in getting on a plane to Jamaica if they have not the required negative COVID test.

Why they love to visit Jamaica (and maybe, other Caribbean countries) is clear: it’s not just the weather, but often a certain ambience, especially if seeking calm. Ironcially, an well-known friend of Jamaica, Arlene Hoffman, died this week:

As The Gleaner wrote:

‘Her love affair with Jamaica began in Port Antonio in the late 1960s. It later moved to Hopewell, Hanover, at the Round Hill, where she learned to inhale all the beautiful Jamaican elements – the cuisine, the laughter, the resort lifestyle, the butterflies and especially the art.

In the early 1970s, her much acclaimed ‘bare bottom’ print ad to promote Jamaica’s tourism found traction with consumers. The ad also found a permanent home in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. And back then, Hoffman and her agency, Hoffman Mann, spoke to a new generation of American women, nudging them to let them know it was okay to throw a bikini in a bag and run away to a beach in Montego Bay.

Hoffman’s biggest impact on Jamaica came in the late 1970s when she created the We’re More than a Beach … We’re a Country advertising campaign to lure resistant American tourists to the island.’

It’s easy to get this. Just this morning, as I was walking the golf course near where we’re staying, I car came by and I heard “Mr. Jones! You’re back.” A lady waved and we chatted for a minute before she continued her ride to where she worked. She was one of the house staff who looked after us when we visited the area in August. That’s what makes many people return to Jamaica, which has a 40% return visitor rate.

Staff who cater to tourists are amongst our most treasured but perhaps underrated assets.

#COVID19Chronicles-231: November 26, 2020-Christmas curfew restrictions

On November 24, the PM announced in Parliament restrictions for the coming Christmas season. At present, the curfew kicks in at 9 p.m and ends at 5 a.m the next day. They will start at 10pm from December 1.

Christmas and Boxing days will see earlier curfews, from 7pm (till 5am):

Gatherings (public and private) will be limited to 15 people.

Curfews will revert to 10pm on December 27, start earlier at 7pm on January 1, then return to 10pm from January 2-15, However, if cases spike, the government will review measures.

Funeral provisions are being reconsidered, to take account of concerns about the inability to have the closure to which many Jamaicans have become accustomed.

Business endorsement of the measures has been quick, even though a push for easing had come recently, in an effort to help firms benefit from a push in Christmas sales.

For context, it’s worth recalling that, in early October, a possible Christmas relaxation of restrictions was being teased by the PM:

But, at that time, I’d wondered if that was the right message and approach. Because the country was then getting past the worst of a recent wave starting in August, but relaxing could have set things up for the start of a possible next wave. The moderation message had been telegraphed by the minister of health and wellness last week, so people should not be shocked.

#COVID19Chronicles-230: November 25, 2020-No Pens Day Wednesday

This is a reblog of a post by my friend, Mary Jones. I’m a great lover of writing, and I also love pens–especially, fountain pens. I hardly ever use one these days, but I still love having them. My wife is also a lover of pens, and uses about four different ones she keeps in her various work bags. Being somewhat contrarian, I may just decide to write with a pen today, instead of focussing on oral communication. Either way, express yourself, as you feel fits.

25th November is No Pens Day – a day to put down our pens (and pencils, coloured chalks, felt tips and even keyboards) and to start talking. The …

No Pens Day Wednesday

#COVID19Chronicles-229: November 24, 2020-COVID PCR testing

Well, since the pandemic began, I’ve not had the need (or desire) to take a COVID test—my wife and daughter have, though. Touch wood, none of us have had any symptoms, so these have been for reassurance or need to travel. Only our teenager has had the need to travel overseas, and she took a test for that. She also had to take tests bi-weekly while at school. She also had to test negative before returning to Jamaica almost two weeks ago. When we have taken staycations in Jamaica, we have not tested beforehand, but our lodgings have had strict protocols in place. We may be travelling during the US Thanksgiving holiday period later this week, and with our daughter some 10 days into her 14 day quarantine, it seemed a good idea to test before setting off. It also makes more sense as the country has moved into the ‘community spread’ phase of the pandemic, which is quite different from when we last ventured to other parts of the island. The latest data show that almost every community has now had COVID cases.

The video show last week of active cases over time is revealing:

I wasn’t really looking forward to the nasal probing.

We made ‘bookings’ online for tests at UWHI, for 8am, and set off for that. Well, so much for thinking things would be smooth based on appointments. About 20 people were already waiting at 7:50; no one was at the ‘registration’ table, so we milled around. Some health sector personnel arrived around 8am and started to set up. “Don’t worry; you’ll all get through,” one said. Well, that’s a comfort…not, if you had scheduled other things based on an appointment time. (Sorry, that Jamaican disregard for the value of people’s time was again evident.) “Well, it’s free, so I don’t know why you’re complaining,” one young woman uttered. I pointed out to her that the price was immaterial to how the organization went and asked if it was better organized when it had been done with a fee. ‘Crickets’.

The health workers tried to get people to ‘line up’ based on ‘first come, first served’. Well, that wasn’t going to sit too well with my wife: “What’s the point of booking online?” she asked? Well, the point was that you were listed, but it didn’t matter much. “Those who are travelling, over there…” came an instruction. We moved to ‘there’, to the left of the registration area; others drifted to the right. Gradually, order started to appear, as people’s details were taken down, forms filled, and testing kits passed out, then people lined up at the testing area. One older lady got a ticking off for her doctor sending her to be tested; I presume she might have had symptoms and should have gone to…? Actually, it’s not clear where one should go! The email I received (below) had stated ‘you will not be tested here, and will be sent here’! So, I’m sympathetic to the lady who was as clear of where to go as a garbled message could make her 😦 My several attempts to understand it left me thinking Accident and Emergency should be where to go, but I wasn’t sure.

Some of the registration staff were the testers, so shifted from the desk to the booth. The line for testing started to lengthen.

After some more ritual grumbling about how Jamaica should be able to better organize, we had our kits and were in line for testing. But, grumbles were valid. Why take information online and not use that to at least have labels printed for each person to be tested? Admittedly, some may not show, but it’s a nonsense for people to answer the questions at registration and for forms and labels to be then handwritten.

While in line, a young lady asked how old we were and the 60+ year-old parents were ushered to the front of the line; the teenager stayed put. 🙂

I’d heard some horror stories about the nasal swabbing and, honestly, I was not looking forward to it. Then, I heard a frail old lady being given instructions: “You’re pulling away; come back; that’s good”. Then, she was being led away by (I think) a young relative. A man and I exchanged comments that if the ‘old granny’ could do it, we surely could. Man up!

Well, it’s not terrible; it’s not overly pleasant; it only takes a few seconds. It’s harder to hear and follow the instructions given by the tester: “Take out the bottle…Take off the top…Put them on the counter…Take out the stick…Step forward…Tilt back your head…[Swabbing]…Hand me the bottle…[Stick broken off, and bottle sealed.]…You’re done…Next!”

Results are due back within 48 hours. We all tested negative. Yea!

But, as we should all understand, one can test negative today and contract the virus tomorrow, but we don’t have continual testing, so let’s live with what we have, for now. Meanwhile, people are getting more sense of relief as news of successful vaccine trials roll in.

Prospects for their availability before end-year are looking good:

#COVID19Chronicles-228: November 23, 2020-Fortress Anfield

The Beatles had a great hit song with ‘When I’m 64’.

Well, Liverpool can start singing that, if ‘Walk on’ loses favour in the next few weeks. They won 3-0 at Anfield yesterday and set a new home club record of 64 league matches undefeated.

Considering how the team had been depleted by injuries, this was a master class performance of playing their own game (with Klopp’s ‘gegenpressing’) [A tactic in which a team, after losing possession of the ball, immediately attempts to win back possession, rather than falling back to regroup. The idea lying behind Gegenpressing or the counter-pressing is that the opposition is disorganised after the opposition lose the ball and this disorganisation can be exploited with a well-executed Gegenpressing]. They nullified Leicester, in the process.

Milner came in for Alexander-Arnold and did what ‘Millie’ does—play a tremendous team player’s game, outplaying almost everyone else on the field:

Jota scored again, in an unfamiliar way for Liverpool: It was the culmination of a 30-pass move. Not since such numbers were regularly tallied in 2006/07 has a top-flight Liverpool strike involved a build-up of so many passes. Jota also became the first Liverpool player to score in each of his first four league matches.

It was a fitting way to honour the passing of former goalkeeper Ray Clemence, who died during the week.

#COVID19Chronicles-227: November 22, 2020-When will he throw in the towel? Disgracing the office of The President

Bloomberg wrote yesterday: ‘A federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a lawsuit by President Donald Trump’s campaign that aimed to block certification of the state’s election results unless it tossed out tens of thousands of mail-in ballots, rejecting the “startling” request due to a lack of evidence.’ It cited the judge’s ruling (my emphasis):

“This court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence…In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state.”

Bloomberg also wrote ‘It’s the latest and perhaps highest-profile courtroom defeat for Trump since the U.S. election Biden won by 6 million ballots. Suits filed by the campaign and its GOP allies have failed in Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona as judges declined to toss out millions of votes based on vague assertions by lawyers and sworn affidavits from voters who interpreted perceived irregularities as evidence of a Democratic conspiracy.’

In response, the Trump campaign said in a statement that it would seek an “expedited appeal” to the Third Circuit as a means to ultimately have the Supreme Court, and its 6-3 conservative majority, consider the case.

The court cases are now losing at a rate of 2 for 34.

Meanwhile, the president has checked out of governing, if he was ever checked in. As many noted, yesterday, instead of focusing on COVID with other G-20 leaders, he went golfing.

President Trump missed the virtual G20 summit’s “Pandemic Preparedness” event to visit one of his golf clubs on the same day that a record 195,500 new Covid-19 infections were reported in a 24-hour period in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.

Much as I like being on a course, this is the metaphor that should stand as his legacy. His biggest care was about his golf score and handicap. The Guardian wrote: ‘According to a tally kept by CNN, Trump has visited one of his golf clubs on 303 occasions during his four years as president. During his 2016 campaign for the White House Trump regularly attacked his predecessor Barack Obama for hitting the links too often and insisted that he would have little time to play golf himself as president as he would be working too hard.’

Not surprisingly, this highlights yet another simple untruth uttered that has marked almost every day in office.

His biggest handicap was that he really doesn’t care for the people he is supposed to lead.

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