Tighter COVID restrictions for Jamaica-August 10, 2021

Media briefing by the PM last night covered a wide range of COVID-related issues:

COVID trends have worsened, as I noted in my post yesterday:

Curfew hours are to be lengthened from August 11 through 31. Gathering restrictions will be tightened, including beaches, rivers, places of worship, and gyms.

No permits will be given for entertainment events.

Schools reopening will depend on what happens in next 3 weeks.

Signs of global inequality: vaccines aren’t there for all-June 28, 2021

Before It’s All Gone: Preserving Jamaica’s Architectural Heritage

Originally posted on Perspectives: Cast iron building on Orange Street – photo: Paul Hamilton This post was first published as a two-part article in …

Before It’s All Gone: Preserving Jamaica’s Architectural Heritage

Over analysed and under performing, Jamaica loves twiddling its thumbs when it could save lives-June 9, 2021

It’s a sad truth about this lovely island that most of our problems are well-known, much analysed, but we’ll short of corrective action.

It doesn’t have to go to major socioeconomic or political issues. It’s there in the little or everyday things.

For the second time in a week, a car has plunged off Flat Bridge; a basic bridge with no side barriers, over a raging river. What could go wrong?

Many accidents, including suicidal ones happen there. Yet, the plain sight problems stare us all in the face and simple solutions are languishing.

Much like Jamaicans don’t know about defensive road behaviour such as warning a reversing driver or not walking behind a reversing vehicle, we’re not much into preventative barriers. Drive on any of our hilly or mountain roads and warnings and barriers for dangerous curves are as visible as pink elephants.

Why do we resist tried and tested life-saving measures?

Simpletons like me have said often that Jamaicans don’t really treasure lives, despite their ready hang ringing. Look across the range of instances that involve lives put at risk. You’ll find a level of negligence that’ll make you shiver.

We’re our own worst enemies.

Lessons from Mr Antonio Watson’s ‘gun hand’ gesture-May 26, 2021

The Jamaica Observer editorial yesterday gave its views on this controversial issue:

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The typical nine-day wonder has reached the furore over the ‘gun hand’ gesture by Petersfield High School standout athlete Mr Antonio Watson at the 2021 Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium.

We have, in the meantime, very carefully reflected on the controversy over the hand gesture symbolising the shooting of a losing athlete  Edwin Allen’s Mr Bryan Levell  and the fierce for-or-against arguments regarding Mr Watson’s action for which he has apologised. The main points we found are as follows:

• The 19-year-old was merely mimicking what he had grown up around in the society, because children live what they learn.

• The gesture has to be seen in the context of Jamaica’s troubling murder rate involving the gun.

• It’s a class thing, and if Mr Watson had been from a top high school his action would be ignored.

• He shouldn’t be condemned or chastised; instead, his vast athletic potential should be nurtured.

• Use the occasion as a teachable moment to espouse valuable lessons.

We made special note of the advice from our greatest athlete ever, Mr Usain Bolt, with whom the athlete is being compared: “Reason with him, yes, about his action, but don’t crucify him… It’s a learning lesson and teachable moment for all. Youths, be strong and remember anything is possible, don’t think limits.”

Noteworthy, too, is the response from ISSA: “Champs has always been a time to showcase and celebrate talent. While we encourage the colourful behaviour of victory celebrations and acknowledge the value and excitement it brings to the championships, it should always be within the code of conduct that guides how we act on and off the field and track.”

It is interesting that the large majority of the criticisms were not about punishing the student, but were centred on what others were saying, which suggests that the outrage was an attempt by the society to assert acceptable standards.

We have seen a similar occurrence in the United States, which is known for mass killings, including at schools. The American media is replete with stories of schools suspending students for making similar gestures, in some cases with backlash from parents.

Since the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act mandating zero tolerance for students bringing guns to school in the US, administrators had been expanding that basic notion to include gun play with toy guns, food shaped into guns, and even hand gestures.

In August 2019 the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that a 64-year-old man was guilty of criminal disorderly conduct for “pointing a finger like a gun at a man, and making a recoil motion as if to suggest he had shot him”.

The Jamaican society should learn from others. We are particularly sensitive that our young athletes be guided, because an international sponsor such as Nike or PUMA wouldn’t want to market their brand with an athlete making an offensive gun gesture.

But for now, we’ll take Mr Watson at his word:

“Upon reflection, I recognise that my gestures could have been misleading and I have no desire to negatively influence others. In fact, going forward I aspire to demonstrate positive behaviours and attitudes that will inspire countless young Jamaicans to strive for excellence and make our country a true beacon of what is good in this world.”

Garth Rattray | Stop the gunman gestures-May 25, 2021

I’m very much in sympathy with the arguments in this column that was published today in The Gleaner:

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The caption below a picture in the online Gleaner on Saturday, May 15 read, “Petersfield High School’s Antonio Watson (left) gestures to Edwin Allen High School’s Bryan Levell as he crosses the finish line ahead of him in the Class One boys’ 200m final during the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday.”

But that “gesture” was far from innocuous; and a video of the event shows two gestures. In the first, Watson used his left hand to mimic a handgun directly pointing and firing twice, at close range, at his rival. The video then shows Watson use his right hand to pull another make-belief handgun, from his waist, and with flamboyant glorification of gunmanship, mimic chambering a round and pointing the handgun off somewhere. 

I am informed that gun mimicking occurs repeatedly at Champs; but that does not make it okay. Such offensive and aggressive displays continue because the meet officials failed to nip them in the bud. Our athletes dare not gesture in that manner after winning any event overseas; why are they allowed to point make-belief guns directly at their rivals here?

No doubt, some (numb to Jamaica’s unabated violence, and/or placatory apologists) will brush aside the gestures as no big deal, relegate them to youthful exuberance, toxic jubilation, or ‘the culture’. But those offensive displays that mimic gunmanship should not be misinterpreted as innocent celebration; they mimic shooting others, an act meant to get rid of others permanently. 

If someone on the street mimics shooting me, I would feel a reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. I would feel under threat, assaulted. Try mimicking a gun pointed at any security force personnel and see what happens.

SERIOUS INTIMIDATIONS

What message does mimicking murder send? There are no redeeming qualities to gesturing like a depraved and murderous gunman. Those gestures are nothing but serious intimidations and macabre rehearsals of murderous acts. They incite and encourage bitterness, the type that kills sportsmanship and transforms friendly competition into acrimonious rivalry. This is the exact diametric of what sports is meant to achieve. FIFA would never ignore or tolerate such behaviour, and neither should we. 

The following day, The Gleaner stated that “The incident has been met with public criticism amid Jamaica’s troubling murder rate.” Watson apologised in a carefully crafted statement, ostensibly penned by someone else, to ward off serious repercussions that could jeopardise his career. “I therefore want to unreservedly apologise to all the stakeholders, my school, fans, and family for my actions … . I have taken full responsibility for such actions as it is in no way a reflection of the ethos of my school, the principles of my coach or the position of ISSA or any of the sponsors”. 

Jamaica is under siege by gunmen who act with impunity. They attack and kill whomever they please. They terrorise individuals, communities and the society at large. The gun has become the surrogate for the power that knowledge and skill bring. The gun has become the means of inflicting pain on others, a blowback of disenfranchisement, disempowerment, disrespect, disdain and distress among the less fortunate. Guns have become the final arbiter and the final solution for almost any problem.

Guns are used to intimidate the entire country; we venture on to the streets with some degree of timidity, wondering if we will encounter violence, especially gun violence. We try to secure our homes, our sanctuaries, from blood-thirsty gunmen. The gun is the murder weapon of choice in Jamaica; it is responsible for incalculable suffering and billions of taxpayers’ dollars being spent on security and healthcare. It has decreased productivity and dissuaded business investment. 

In an enlightened society where there is awareness of the meaning and serious impact of mimicking murderous gunmen, all athletes would be warned of disqualification for any such action. And if any breaks that rule, they should be summarily disqualified. We must draw the line somewhere.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.

#COVID19Chronicles-297: January 29, 2021-Another year passed; interesting times for a birthday

A year ago, I was planning to take a short vacation to England, in mid-February, just because, but also to get a personal sense of how Brexit was rolling in. Now, after it rolled in, I’d have much less desire to make the trip. The pandemic, which was declared as my vacation was ending, is being managed badly there and Brexit is turning out to be the ‘pig in a poke’ that the supporters lied it wouldn’t be. With COVID restrictions, I’d be able to leave Jamaica but would not be able to return from the UK!

A year ago, I had anticipated my daughter returning from school for Spring break in March and my mother-in-law and her sister coming to spend a few weeks while my wife and I headed off on work travel to Colombia. I didn’t anticipate they’d be still here in July and later. That’s life during a pandemic!

A year ago, as I turned 65, I was happy to be retired and enjoying my life as a mainly home-bound person. I didn’t anticipate that the bulk of the country and likewise in many countries would be living their lives as work-at-home or stay-in-place people. That’s life during a pandemic.

Once the pandemic rolled through the world, eyes turned to scientists for solutions; a vaccine was hoped for but would be far off, we thought. Yet, here we are and vaccines have been developed and are being dispensed in several countries; richer ones are better placed than poorer ones. Ironically, the UK is better placed than its EU neighbours, because it had decided to order 3 months ahead of them.

I was keeping an eye on the US presidential elections, due to end in November 2020, and as the Democrats fought over who would carry their torch, my hope was that it would be a strong contender against the incumbent President Trump. Then, the election over, I looked forward to the transition. I did not expect a simple handover—Donald Trump doesn’t do losing well; I recalled his threat in 2015 that he would not commit to accepting any result but his victory. He had warned during 2020 well before the election that he thought the election was rigged. So, when he started digging in his heels and vacillating about accepting results, I knew we were in for a struggle.

On election night, the contest was compelling watching and it was a nail biter than looked like a win for the Democrat candidate, Joe Biden. Waking to that confirmation was frankly delightful.

I did not anticipate a string of efforts to overturn the results. I did not expect the overt efforts to do that! The law suits did not seem too out of line, though it was clear that with nothing inside the paper bags that were being used as briefs for the courts, made it clear that the claims of fraud would go nowhere. I didn’t anticipate that this effort would go on so fruitlessly for so long. I expected some of the lying on the stump but it was clear that the truth had to be told in courts. I had doubts about whether the courts would hold the line, especially as many of them and the Supreme Court had been stuffed with Trump nominees. That they did was an amazing surprise.

As we went through what were usually pro forma events to confirm the election results, I was really nervous about where the presidential resistance efforts would lead. I heard words about “peaceful transition”, but in my mind I could see that was not a given, by a long shot, The level of divided opinions, with nearly 3/4 of Republican supporters believing the propaganda that the election was stolen and Trump had won, by a “landslide”, in his words.

The State certifications became dramas. Normal snooze-fests were now must-watch. After that, the wait for Congressional confirmation turned from being ‘who cares?’ to must-watch. As many turned in to see this dull as dishwater piece of political theatre, it was not part of the popcorn eating to watch an insurrection unfolding in front of our eyes. (As a grim reminder, it was like watching the disaster of the 1986 Challenger launch.)

January 6, 2021 is now seared into our memories as the day when the US democratic system was pushed to the brink.

It appeared to survive on the day, and the institutional finalization of the election, the Inauguration on January 20, again became its usual must-watch event. But who could have anticipated that, in addition, to the COVID protocols that forced fewer people and more distance, we would see Washington DC in lock down and thousands of the National Guard lining the streets and ringing the US Capitol, itself ringed with high fencing? The eerie sight of the Washington Mall filled with flags and free of people will remain a deeply strange image.

The security policy failure has still be fully explained and now proposals may include permanent fencing around the Capitol complex and a ready-response force stationed nearby.

The sight of the sourpuss departing president determined to not accept the election results by not publicly uttering the name of the new president and refusing to attend the Inauguration was in keeping with him, but as distasteful a piece of adult behaviour as one may ever seen.

For me, the fact that his narcissism has extended to letting his Vice President and his family be under siege, maybe in fear of their lives during the siege of the Capitol, was more telling of a moral bankruptcy that is rare in anyone, let alone a politician.

The past 12 months have been dominated by the pandemic. Many wanted to see the back of 2020, but 2021 looks set to be no cake walk.

The physical violence that took place on January 6 now appears to have an underpinning of political connivance and planning that is really worrying as it suggests a serious plot to subvert elected government. The fact that Congressional politicians should be openly expressing fear of some of their colleagues is mind boggling. But, these are indeed interesting times.

As I turn 66, I have the mixed emotions that come as the prospect of a vaccine comes closer. Then, I read yesterday that one of the vaccine manufacturers stating that its vaccine should not be given to those over 64. That’s not the kind of present that I want to look forward to.

A year ago, I did not anticipate not spending Christmas with my family, but home alone for 2020 was how it went, while they went to Grandma’s house.

The end of the pandemic is not in sight, and while we can think that a year from now the situation of lockdowns, quarantines, and other restrictions on what was normal life, it’s not a given. New waves keep occurring in various countries. New highs keep occurring in terms of cases and deaths.

We’ve seen a new president, in his first week, return the office to a welcome state of normality, including important things like a daily press conference where the press are encouraged to ask questions and answers are willingly given. What a time to be alive!

The desire for more-open communications from the White House includes having scientists and other specialists speak directly to the public and media from the White House. Having sign language interpreters is an important step.

We got a quick ‘read out’ of President Biden’s call to Russia’s President Putin, before the Russians issued theirs, and it differed. We also got to see and hear a call with the NATO Secretary General:

In coming weeks, we have the first ever second impeachment trial of a president, albeit now a former president. In coming months, we may see law suits that have sedition charges laid against people in the US and even against the former president, in addition to other legal risks he was facing before. Some of those charged already point towards Trump was their inspiration to riot, as ‘patriots’ whom he’d called to Washington DC. It will be interesting.

What a time to be alive!

My wife baked a cake with bourbon, whose smell wafted up to be as I headed to bed. I’ll look forward to that, at least. One day at a time.

#COVID19Chronicles-243: December 7, 2020-Pandemic fatigue is real

It’s been a baby in the womb time dealing with COVID.

Fans were back at English football grounds, if in tier 2 or lower. Many clumps of 2000-4000 fans were thrilled to have this part of normality back. Fans were divided about whether they’d go back before vaccines were available.

The BBC reported: ‘Clubs in certain areas of England can now allow a limited number of supporters into their stadiums following a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions.

The nationwide lockdown in England ended at midnight, meaning clubs in tier one of the new restrictions can have up to 4,000 fans attend matches, with up to 2,000 allowed at games in tier-two areas.’

It meant a lot to every club that had the opportunity but I feel the need was greatest at Anfield, where fans had not seen the team seal the championship or had a chance to share in seeing the trophy won for the 2019/20 season. But, Jurgen Klopp gave a taste of the emotions that had been bottled up for nearly 9 months.

Fans have been back at outdoor sporting events in other European countries—since Summer, if you include the French Open and Tour de France, though with restricted numbers—and as I noted several days ago, full stadiums have been back in play for rugby in Australia and New Zealand for well over a month.

But, it’s not just in the sporting area that people are yearning to ‘get back to normality’. As Thanksgiving passed, many let loose in the USA and travelled, despite the advice not to. As the various holidays approach in December, people are champing at the bit to find some way to get together with family and friends.

In Jamaica, golfers and tennis players have been able to enjoy their sport since March, and it’s great to enjoy the open space and freedom to move on a golf course most weekends.

It was nice to be able to get together with friends for Sunday brunch.

My family and I are happy to be patient, though plans are in the works for Christmas travel for some of us; I wont be passing any airport checks for a while, thanks. The Bahamas will relax its restrictions, heading into Christmas:

But, as holidays approach in December, I get the impression that people are more in tune with the real meaning of the season of giving and caring.

Businesses are desperate for customers and sales and it’s still likely that the urge to ‘give’ will break the resistance of many and we’ll see another surge in COVID cases into the New Year. But, it’s something that can be muted, with efforts to make Christmas and other holidays a bit different and more distant this year. We can do it!

#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-220: November 15, 2020-A hard COVID autumn and winter coming?

Predictions of a hard COVID winter are beginning to look right. Much of Europe is now bracing for an extended second wave of COVID infections:

Most European countries have decided to impose a range of national lockdowns. Germany, which had managed its situation well, is preparing for maybe five months of restrictions:

By contrast, the USA, which has gone through a wave of new highs of cases and deaths over the past two weeks is far from any sort of national restrictions. CNN reported:

‘More than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in the United States on Saturday, the 12th day in a row the country saw new cases of the virus rise by six figures.

Friday saw the highest daily case count since the pandemic began with 184,514 new cases. 

As of Saturday afternoon US time, 116,716 new Covid-19 cases and 917 additional deaths had been reported. 

The US has reported more than 10.8 million cases and more than 245,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.’

Texas is way out in front, and President Trump refuses any such national measures, emphasizing last week that “this administration” wont do that, citing the financial/economic costs and lost jobs. (This was also his near ‘acceptance’ moment that he had lost the election.)

In fact, yesterday saw El Paso’s lockdown deemed illegal by courts. Newsweek reported:

‘Texas state appeals court rejected a stay-at-home order in El Paso County on Friday despite the community seeing a surge in new cases and rapidly decreasing space in morgue trucks and tent hospitals.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state and local restaurant owners, who sued El Paso District Judge Ricardo Samaniego for issuing a city-wide shutdown after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a reopening order on October 7.’

Asian countries are also ramping up restrictions:

What is also clear, is where life has moved back towards ‘normalcy’ has seen recent difficulties, with sporting and educational activities having to be curtailed as cases spike among playing and coaching personnel as well as with students and teachers.

Cancellations are starting to mount and affect fixtures:

Plans to adjust to COVID-affected schedules are coming into play in an otherwise full US fall/winter sports calendar: