Yesterday (Friday, March 5) Jamaica recorded its highest ever number of new cases (527). In the past seven days, 29 people have died from COVID-19 and we have had around two thousand new cases. We have COVID-19 cases in every community, in every parish. As we are still waiting for the vaccine (the first batch of which I understand is on its way from India, although the Ministry of Health and Wellness has not confirmed this yet) we need to be focusing on what’s happening on the ground.
There is clearly something missing; as numbers soar and the 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew remains in place, Jamaicans continue to flout COVID-19 protocols and regulations at every turn. It is not only parties, but also large gatherings at funerals, burials, in churches, crowds of people outside government offices; vendors not wearing masks at markets; and so on. A two-week ban on funerals and burials will start tomorrow (March 8).
Now, to the communications part of things: Weekly press briefings, press releases, and social media posts are, it seems, reaching a rather small percentage of the population. Many (perhaps most) Jamaicans have no clue what was said at the last briefing. Many Jamaicans are not on Twitter or Facebook and don’t even have Internet access or smartphones. So clearly, this is one group that we need to be targeting. No? Currently they are not getting the message – or the right information.
I would suggest a focused community public education programme – including what we call ‘town criers’ – a van with a megaphone traveling slowly round the neighborhood imparting information, reminding people to wear masks – and handing out masks if residents say they don’t have any (or can’t afford any). Talking to people and answering their questions on the ground. I am not sure whether this is happening, or has been happening. It’s a simple solution (and I doubt that it would be very expensive) but I think it would be effective.
We must involve everybody. Uptown, downtown, corporate entities, clubs and churches and bar-owners and neighborhood associations – you name it. This is a problem for the whole country! We know this. Then let us work with the whole country. Politicians sitting in a parliamentary committee (or in Cabinet meetings that are not open to the public at all) alone doesn’t cut it.
COVID is about “all a wi.” So the call for a National Commission makes perfect sense to me. Here are the IDB Jamaica Civil Society Consulting Group’s conclusions.
IDB Jamaica civil society group calls for establishment of National Commission on COVID-19
Kingston, Jamaica March 5, 2021. The IDB Jamaica Civil Society Consulting Group is calling on the Government to establish a National Commission on COVID-19 that would help to drive a more strategic, proactive, and enhanced response to the raging pandemic.
According to Dr Carolyn Gomes, civil society representative to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Access to COVID Tools Accelerator (ACTA) Partnership, “this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a coordinated response that involves input from all national stakeholders.”
Dr. Gomes explained that the national commission would include critical groups such as the private sector, tourism, manufacturers, the public and private health sector partners, the churches, unions, civil society, and the political parties. This would allow “the Government to receive advice and guidance for the country’s efforts to reduce prevalence and limit spread as we implement the national vaccination strategy into 2022,” said Dr. Gomes.
The group is also advocating for the Government to revise its test, trace and isolate strategy based on revised algorithms. It is also calling for the Medical Association of Jamaica and other players in private and public health to become involved in advocacy for wider use and reporting of antigen Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) and PCRs in COVID-19 infection control to augment the overstretched capacity of the public health sector, as called for by Dr. Gomes. Support for developing and deploying the necessary widened testing strategy is available from the ACTA, Dr Gomes explained.
The group is also encouraging better social distancing and mask wearing enforcement. It is urging the Government to undertake a widespread programme to distribute masks with the aid of town criers, who can help to spread the message.
Therese Turner-Jones, IDB Jamaica Country Representative and General Manager for the Caribbean Country Department, is also encouraging stronger private sector engagement, stating that the sector had a greater role to play in leading the charge, such as facilitating testing in workplaces, promoting stronger adherence to health protocols, and implementing work from home policies and arrangements where feasible.
‘The private sector needs to be stronger in the enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing protocols within their establishments. They must also be extremely sensitive and accommodating, especially with schools now operating mostly in a virtual format.“
“Children need proper supervision and safe spaces to conduct online schooling and optimal parental and guardian support are critical. With the vaccines virtually on our doorstep, every effort needs to be made to encourage persons who fall within the relevant target groups to take the vaccine. The private sector can help in the public education programming.” Turner-Jones explained.
The group also welcomed the move of the Government to put a halt to face to face schooling except for Grades 6, 12 and 13, as well as the introduction of negative tests for all visitors and returning residents.
The IDB supports the establishment of Civil Society Consulting Groups in each of its member countries as a forum for dialogue and exchange with national civil society actors at the country level. These groups which reflect representation of a wide range of sectors help the IDB understand and analyze the role and contributions of civil society in the changing development process of its member countries.