#COVID19Chronicles-328: February 28, 2021-Lenten reflections 12-A podcast on the supportive role of the informal economy during the pandemic

Here’s a podcast based on an article I wrote last May, concerning Jamaica’s informal economy and the role it may play in a recovery from the economic recession caused by the COVID pandemic.

#COVID19Chronicles-327: February 27, 2021-Lenten reflections 11-Where is the PM? Here!

One thing about most politicians is they prefer to be associated with good news rather than bad. So, it’s been interesting this week to watch the barbs ramp up about PM Holness, and whether he has been MIA (missing in action) while the pandemic effects of Jamaica have worsened, especially into 2021. If I were really interested, I’d track the minutes, hours, and days from the first needle prick to a full response. Well, one response appeared in the media yesterday, and the PM made clear that he didn’t feel he’d been missing, because he was “working behind the scenes”.

This muffled cri de coeur reminded me of a photo that was taken and published of the PM ‘working’ on a plane that purported to show him ‘working’ while on an official visit to China in 2019. First reactions, were funny, as the plane interior looked swish and many thought first that he was on a private jet; it was just first class on a nice airline like Cathay Pacific.

Of course, those shots need to offset the impression of a junket that some take when they seen politicians doing what looks like tourism, such as trips to the Great Wall of China:

The public also get confused when they see politicians doing what they call leisure. But, taking exercise is often seen as a good thing by most people. I’ve noticed how some politicians have played with the optics of their taking exercises; it sometimes backfires.

Many people don’t know how bureaucracy works so need relatable moments to convince them their tax dollars are being put to good use. Having been on the inside many decades, it helps to know that work often never stops for many in bureaucracies. Some would then say they should work all the time for the people. While many expect their politicians to be super human, they also want them to be relatable and like them. It’s a no-win situation.

But, it’s funny to watch.

#COVID19Chronicles-326: February 26, 2021-Lenten reflections 10-Getting out of a fine data breach mess

Last night, the PM issued a statement about the state of cybersecurity policy, including the now messy situation regarding the JamCOVID19 app, which was reported to have shown a 3rd data exposure/breach:

It emerged that the JamCOVID19 website was down for ‘maintenance’:

The indications that cybersecurity concerns and actions will be accelerated is a coherent-sounding situation, but it’s been part of a messy slog as issues were shown clearly to exist in this key part of Jamaica’s current cyber architecture.

I wont go over the trail of tweets and emails that have gone on between Zack Whittaker, Amber Group and government ministries, but the read like a piece of classic denial by politicians and fuzziness on the part of the corporate entity directly responsible for the problem. Owning the fault seems to be no part of the official and business strategy.

He reported that he’d advised Amber Group of a third security lapse:

Tech industry experts have tried to play mediator, of a sort:

The website being “under maintenance” will have an impact on travellers wanting to come to Jamaica; how much and how long, isn’t clear. But, it’s a messy stage in a messy situation and it’s not clear, yet, who and when the mess will get sorted.

#COVID19Chronicles-325: February 25, 2021-Lenten reflections 9-PPV = Traffic hazards

Really a slow news day in my head. But, something is also going on if you’re on the road.

Today, I ventured out around dawn to walk. On my way home I had to deal with a common hazard. A PPV being driven without much due care and attention: the minibus has picked up passengers on Mandela Highway and pulled into 3 lanes of traffic wanting to get over to the extreme right just through force. Sorry, mate! Wait! I leaned on my horn and leaned till he got the message.

It’s amazing how few collisions we have with these bandits. 😡🙏🏾

#COVID19Chronicles-324: February 24, 2021-Lenten reflections 8-Giving podcasting a try

About a year ago, I ordered some podcasting equipment-fancy microphone etc–but. it’s still in its box. I checked out ways to make acceptable podcasts without the equipment, but finding a host is more complicated. Some free sites exist, like Buzzsprout, but as podcasting is not centralized, the process is a bit more complicated than with blogging.

Then, I came across Anchor, which is a simple software that also offers a link with WordPress, offering the possibility of using blog posts to create podcasts. The problem with that, I’ve found, is getting text-to-speech to work on blog posts, using AI voices. Meantime, I have decided to try to use my own voice. It’s a bit of work to do the voice input, but it’s also a learning exercise. Anchor allows creation of podcasts in small steps, if that’s preferred, eg making 10-90 seconds presentations and then blending them. One can also shift around the input, if that seems needed. Additional things like background music and interludes to split the talking are cool and I’ll play more with those.

My intent, now, is to try podcasts for some more interesting ideas or commentary. It’ll be different from Facebook Live as content can be held recorded until ready for publication.

Here’s my first substantial attempt, discussing crime in Jamaica.

#COVID19Chronicles-323: February 23, 2021-Lenten reflections 7: Jamaican government lost the policy plot?

Short and sweet. Evidence is mounting that the government is trying to make sense out of nonsense with its approach to COVID. If one looks across the landscape of what is deemed acceptable and not acceptable, it’s hard to find a consistent thread.

Mass public transport operates with largely minimum supervision about adherence to protocols. Anyone can see that many taxis operate with drivers who are maskless and passengers who are maskless and by definition not practising social distancing, packed into a car (one less than maximum–as if that really matters).

A kerfuffle arose after the SIGMA charity run this weekend, which was mainly virtual, but had 100 invited runners on the road. Cries of double standard.

Sports administrators are still pulling out their hair why they have not had the go-ahead to resume sports under their control.

If most enterprises and government departments can operate in a way deemed ‘COVID-acceptable’, why can’t teams be trusted to do that, or sports governing bodies?

We hear of anecdotes of workers co-mingling, some masked, some not; social distancing enforced or not.

Some argue that the economic imperative put business and public administration as higher priorities than sports. But, that logic would have argued for ways to be found for tourism to survive better than it has. It’s hypothetical, but limits could have been set for the sector that appeared to be safe standards, eg no more than 40% capacity. Those who could comply with that would be held to strict oversight.

In fact, oversight–or lack of it–is probably what’s made things harder for Jamaica. But, put simply, if students can be supervised and allowed back at school, why can’t adults be allowed to operate in team settings with similar expectations? It can’t be that the sports environment is inherently more dangerous. We’re also dealing with a body of people who have a higher expected level of adherence to standards and discipline (that would set them apart from, say, the entertainment industry).

Many have anecdotes of how COVID protocols have been loosely applied or not applied at all. I know schools who’ve had athletes training for athletics for months. I know football teams doing likewise in the same open space. No special provisions to adhere to any rules to allow them to do that. They’re not hiding or doing this in the dark, but out in the open. Yet, the Jamaican national football team is admonished for holding an unauthorised training session and professional football cannot be resumed for that!

So, I sense more floundering as the COVID cases rise rapidly. But, as with all things, if your approach is a bit half-baked, the outcome can’t be good.

The policy messages were mixed from early on, but now it’s just a bag of confusion.

#COVID19Chronicles-322: February 22, 2021-Lenten reflections 6: UK sets path out of lockdown

This time in 2020, I was just starting a short trip to the UK. Today, a year on, PM Boris Johnson outlined how England would exit from its long period of COVID lockdown.

The main points are summarized below:

UK vaccinated 1/3 of adult population and such progress has opened the door to an exit from restrictions.

Scottish schools reopened for youngest pupils, today:

English schools will reopen March 8 (for education and sport), as will care homes; outdoor sport will resume March 29:

Shops, hairdressers and outdoor facilities reopen April 12:

Fans can return to sporting events from May 17:

All restrictions to be removed by June 21:

#COVID19Chronicles-321: February 21, 2021-Lenten reflections 5: Should I go incognito to get news content?

Not much to say today, except that I have long struggled about dealing with paywalls for media. My gut feeling has been to not pay for online news. The whole issue about value and cost on the Internet is complicated. Part of the problem for me is about starting conditions–content was free and my demand was shaped by that. Once they figured out that the Internet was about eyeballs, they ladled out free content. I understand that content providers may now feel that decision was mistaken, but it’s the bed they made.

As with most things in life, moves by content providers, especially news media, to start pricing will meet with several responses, including resistance, which may be greater than acceptance. Also, the nature of the Internet, which has an implicit social justice underpinning, means that some will create ways to bypass pricing portals. So, it is with paywalls.

Various ways have been developed to do bypass, the simplest of which is to load the URL of the page desired into an incognito browser.

Incognito is one of the measures the Internet now offers to protect users from being identified, along with software like virtual personal networks (VPNs).

Now, not all media content may be accessible this way, but having spent a year and more frustrated about stories I cannot read on the Washington Post and Financial Times sites, I shall see how this little ruse works.

#COVID19Chronicles-320: February 20, 2021-Lenten reflections 4: Pandemic policy disconnect

When I heard Jamaica’s PM announce, last August, that voting in the September general election for his government to have another term would be a ticket for vaccines for all Jamaicans, I thought it was a teasing offer:

That message was changed and we were told that the government was aiming to get vaccines to cover 16% of the population by end-2021. I wondered if they had really understood how useless that target seemed. One message that has been coming through during the pandemic has been that, without herd immunity, it’s hard to foresee a proper socio-economic recovery. The prospects for that changed, markedly, with the development and approval since December 2020 of COVID vaccines.

That’s not something that I’d expect everyone to grasp, but policy makers, economists, and media should have focused on this.

Through late-January, the government was sticking to the 16 percent. Jamaica was “committed to vaccinating 16 per cent of the population in phase 1 of a four-phase distribution strategy, and will receive 935,676 doses of the approved COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility come April” the minister of health and wellness states. That, he said, will cost the country some $3 billion.

So, it came as a heartening piece of common sense that the Budget for FY2021-22 set out this week included funds for vaccines for 2 million citizens, by end-2021:

That amount of vaccines should cover about 70% of the nation and give us a better-than-fighting chance to reaching herd immunity.

#COVID19Chronicles-319: February 19, 2021-Lenten reflections 3-Jamaican COVID updates on vaccines and data breach

This week’s ‘COVID conversations’ tried to put an optimistic spin on recent events, when the country had experienced a series of new highs in daily cases, as both testing and the positivity rates increased. The government has tried to keep reminding people that COVID is very much still here:

Health and wellness promotions continue in all regions, including free COVID testing:

It looks like over 2/3 (~2 million) of Jamaica’s population will get (3.5 million) vaccines by the end of 2021, up from the disturbingly low initial target of 16%.

The session provided an general update of COVID developments:

It also went through the recently announced Budget FY 2021/22 allocations, which include US$34 Million (over J$5B) for vaccine manufacturers/facilities (eg freezers and syringes) and in addition to COVAX, we are also in talks with India, Moderna, the Private Sector and African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).

Questions raised touched on the recent news that the JamCOVID19 portal had experienced a data security breach. The story had been broken by Zack Whittaker (of TechCrunch). The portal and app were developed by a Jamaican-based company, Amber Group:

The minister punted the question to the Office of the Prime Minister, which is investigating (details unspecified) and will report shortly. Questions also touched on availability of PPE equipment.

News emerged later that the government is mounting a criminal investigation into the data breach.