#COVID19Chronicles-352: March 23, 2021-Lenten reflections 36-Thoughts on perplexing Jamaican policies to deal with COVID

Jamaica’s gone through a year with the COVID pandemic and I’m now at a loss to understand what policy is driving the official approach to addressing it. Yesterday, the prime minister announced that Jamaica will undergo three weekend lockdowns, that will span the traditional Easter holiday, in an attempt to stem the growth of Covid-19 cases.

Some simple conclusions, though, seem clear. It’s not a balanced approach; it’s about keeping domestic economic activity going. Tourism, which is really foreign activity that benefits us, we can’t control as the world seeks shelter in home countries.

We’ll see that economic focus in a lower than expected decline in GDP in fiscal year 2020-21, and the government may be overly optimistic in predicting growth in real GDP of 5 point 2 per cent for fiscal year 2021-2022. In the nerdy language of economists, the Government intends to run a primary surplus of 6 point 1 per cent of GDP in 2021-2022 and a fiscal surplus of 0 point 3 per cent of GDP during the fiscal year. This is ambitious. Some would argue that this strategy is too pro-cyclical for a country that is expected to see an 11 point 6 per cent reduction in GDP for 2020-2021. In other words, the government is pumping up activity more, which is possible by allowing more of the economy to function as normal.

We’ve lost less foreign exchange than expected because remittances have largely offset lower tourism revenue–we have been surprised by this resilience, but it’s well explained by Jamaican diaspora being forced to send money to the island which they previously were able to bring, personally; this foreign exchange story is consistent with the Jamaican dollar exchange rate not plummeting.

A greater proportion of people are still working than in many countries, although our unemployment rate is higher than before the pandemic.

It’s not balance because our health sector is in crisis–hospitalizations and deaths continue to mount. The Prime Minister says the nation has moved from 15-17 beds being occupied initially to now over 600.

Balance would’ve meant not allowing that to happen.

The government adopted a laissez-faire approach to many actions that are known to curb viral spread. (I really don’t understand that unless its belief is strong that civil disorder would occur.)

Global evidence is that few COVID restrictions bind without serious consequences.

The government has refused to compel, in a real sense, contagion prevention, even with some high profile examples of intolerance. (Images of police officers jovially chatting to people without masks is an egregious example. The better image is for them to be enforcing the rules.)

Real consequences seem draconian if people refuse to do what is reasonably expected of them; ‘personal responsibility’ is a hollow catch phrase in country renowned for showing little of it.

I’m generally a liberal so am not pro-police state measures. But, I strongly believe, You Are What You Tolerate. Every transgressor needs to understand it’s one strike only. It may be unpleasant to see or hear of what that means, but it’s a message that needs to be passed on fast.

Fines don’t work, not least because the government has a long history of amnesties. Asset seizures may send the right message. So may patrols in ALL areas, to show location or status don’t matter. I don’t understand why we don’t use technology like drones to identify transgressions like parties during curfew hours.

But, I also don’t understand why the government cannot say why it has not driven to be firmer and what it thinks will fail.

TIGHTER CURFEWS ARE NOT THE ANSWER to viral spread in Jamaica: we know from recent official surveys that most spread occurs in workspaces and public transport, yet have few or no measures to address that were announced, meaning we accept little change will occur. That seems dishonest . We’ll add frustration for little gain, is my estimation.

I’m happy to be proved wrong.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)