Jamaica Update, June 28, 2021: Anxious doctors, relaxed protocols, and the Saudis visit

It has been raining, thankfully. It has been damp and humid and thundery, and the garden is flourishing. Plus, the Euro football competition has been more than usually compelling. Apart from that, it’s been pretty much business as usual on this island – although I do sense a certain amount of tension and anxiety as July 1 approaches – when our curfew hours will be relaxed, besides rules for gatherings. The entertainment sector is quite happy, but to be honest the timing seems off. We shall see. A planned concert organized by the Government for International Reggae Day (July 1) at Port Royal has been called off, (cancelled or postponed?) due to the weather forecast (we do have tropical waves and a system approaching) and there will be a film show instead – or was it because the response to the idea has been less than positive?

Caribbean: After the Royal Caribbean fiasco in Florida recently, the island of Saint Lucia is looking forward to its first cruise ship next Tuesday (June 29). It is supposed to be a gradual return to “normal.” Passengers are “encouraged” to be vaccinated but don’t have to be.

The Bahamas’ Court of Appeal this week upheld a historic Supreme Court ruling that children born out of wedlock to foreign women and Bahamian men are entitled to citizenship at birth. The Government says it will appeal.

Cuba is celebrating the news that it has completed trials on two COVID-19 vaccines and that they have high efficacy rates. BioCubaFarma, the government-owned pharmaceutical company, says its three-dose Abdala vaccine candidate had an efficacy rate of 92.28% in phase III of clinical trials. The state-run Finlay Institute of Vaccines said its Soberana 02 had an efficacy rate of 62% after two out of three recommended shots. Both vaccines are expected to be granted emergency authority by local regulators shortly. 

There is another burgeoning political, social (and health crisis) in Haiti. A controversial constitutional referendum pushed by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was postponed due to COVID-19. But the delay only adds to the building political chaos in Haiti stemming from Moïse’s efforts to expand his power in the country. The agony continues…

Children’s rights: The police seem to be pursuing child abuse and rape cases with some vigor lately, which is good to see. A 37-year-old man who impregnated a 15-year-old after he was ordered by a judge to stay away from her was convicted on child abuse charges this week. 249 girls have been impregnated from rapes, carnal abuse, and other sex crimes between January 2020 and March 2021, according to the Sunday Gleaner, and this is probably a conservative number.

There has been yet another study on our vulnerable children – specifically, children working on the street – hustling and selling sexual favors. There have been so many reports on the plight of Jamaican children, whether it’s in State care, domestic violence, or in juvenile correctional centres. Although these are much discussed in the media, nothing really seems to happen. The situation remains the same. Many children continue to suffer.

COVID-19: We are in a precarious situation, there’s no doubt. Not only are we facing a shortage of vaccines, but there is also the specter of the Delta Variant hanging over us (and is there really a “Delta Plus” variant?) Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton apologised for the problems the shortage has caused, pointing out that Jamaica is expecting a small amount of vaccines (next week?) besides a donation of 35,000 from Mexico. There will be no vaccination “blitz” this weekend but vaccination for over-50s with appointments will continue from June 28, it was announced (however, at just a few locations). As noted previously, the Ministry is having to prioritize tightly. Vaccines are running out.

Now, as we get ready for “relaxed” COVID-19 protocols from July 1, there is quite a bit of anxiety over the Delta variant. It’s not if but when it will arrive on our shores – and it may have already done so. Professor Peter Figueroa has urged us to “be vigilant” about the variant, but how will we know when it is here? When will we be able to do our own genome sequencing investigations of COVID samples, instead of having to send them to Trinidad (which takes weeks to get the results back)? I would like an update on this.

Crime: Jamaica is a tragic place. It was a hot Sunday afternoon just as curfew started, in the hills of North Clarendon. A man who was allegedly her partner cut the throat of a young woman, who was eight months pregnant, 25-year-old Tasheika McKay, during an argument. The police had to ward off angry residents, who wanted to attack the man. Some were heard shouting “Kill him!” The following morning, the police confirmed that the alleged murderer had hanged himself with a piece of his clothing, in his cell in Lionel Town.

In my last news update I noted comments made by illegal immigrants from Jamaica, who were picked up in a boat on the coast of Florida. The Jamaican police have the names of the seven Jamaicans and reported at a press briefing that four of them have “criminal traces.” It seems they were running away from the police!

The murder rate is moving up, by 3.8 percent over last year’s figure for the period January 1 to June 19. Up to that date the total was 662 – but by the time you read this, a few more Jamaican lives lost will be added to that number. National Security Minister Horace Chang made a presentation in Parliament, and if anything meaningful came out of it I will let you know. Usually I am none the wiser. The Minister actually dozed off in Parliament during a colleague’s presentation this week…

Meanwhile, a curfew in August Town, St. Andrew, was extended at very short notice, with small businesses, cook shops etc. being told to lock down rather suddenly, to residents’ dismay. And speaking of August Town, a well-known alleged gangster, Christopher “Dog Paw” Linton was shot and injured, (not seriously) although it’s not clear in which community. His 2013 conviction on gun charges was overturned on appeal in April.

The police are reporting some success during the ZOSO security operation in Norwood, St. James in its first week. Eight were arrested and two firearms seized. Meanwhile a rural St. James district was ringing with gunfire and seven people were injured in a weekend shooting spree. And so on…

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the issue of cock-fighting in Jamaica, which takes place in certain rural areas, although it is illegal (but supported, it seems, by influential people, so it continues). I was happy to read that the police raided one such event near Kitson Town, St. Catherine, during curfew hours on Sunday afternoon. I hope they will be more vigilant regarding this cruel practice.

I remember when Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz began importing second-hand cars, which he called “crissas,” back in the 1990s. Now a scammer decided to use his name and photo, targeting people who wanted to buy them at auction on the wharf. What a little crook, now arrested and charged…

Economy: The “entertainment sector” has been absolutely desperate for a relaxing of COVID-19 protocols, at this point, and some business leaders are predicting a “boom” – in parties, dances etc., not, one hopes in COVID-19. Many players in the sector have not exactly distinguished themselves since the pandemic began, in terms of observing protocols.

During 2020, remittances from overseas to Jamaica increased by 20 percent, noted Government Senator Don Wehby in the Upper House. He expressed gratitude to the diaspora for their support. Senator Wehby is Group CEO of GraceKennedy, which boasts a great number of women executives, including Corporate Communications Director Suzanne Stanley (formerly with Jamaican Environment Trust). Good for them!

Education: There is continued unease, as thousands of students sat the regional examinations today (CXC and CAPE). The recent announcement regarding relaxation has stirred fears about whether the schools will really open up for face-to-face classes in September. Parents, teachers, and the students themselves are anxious. Other seasoned educators, such as Renee Rattray, remain concerned that students must get back in school, and how many teachers are vaccinated, by the way?

Health: Besides the extreme difficulties of obtaining COVID-19 vaccines, the Ministry of Health and Wellness is under pressure from public health doctors, 143 of whom are “in limbo” as they await new contracts. The Jamaica Medical Doctors Association is in militant mood, saying it will take any action, including legal action, to get the issue resolved. A meeting is scheduled for tomorrow but Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan sought to explain how the system works. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect with the regional health authorities (why were they ever created, I have often wondered?) Nurses are also unhappy as they await their pay for the recent weekend “blitzes” they have worked.

Senator Matthew Samuda has the difficult prison portfolio (although he is the “Minister Without Portfolio”) in the Ministry of National Security – and he often looks a little more stressed than this.

Human Rights: The pandemic has seriously affected the ongoing rehabilitation program at Jamaica’s prisons, conceded Minister Matthew Samuda recently. We already knew this, as visitors (including family members) to the prisons have been banned and only prison staff and lawyers have access. Maria Carla Gullotta and colleagues from Stand Up for Jamaica, the non-governmental organization that has worked hard on rehab programs over the years, have only been able to visit occasionally. Samuda says the psychological impact on prisoners has been major, and in particular the mentorship programs for juveniles and adults.

This is another example of how the most vulnerable in society have suffered, mentally and physically, during the pandemic (and continue to do so)… women at home with abusive partners (yes, they are mostly men); children suffering from abuse at home; students without Internet service or devices; elders, especially those who live alone and in rural areas; people with chronic illness and with compromised immune systems; the poor and the homeless; struggling entrepreneurs; those with mental health illnesses – and the list goes on. The damage is dauntingly severe.

The people of Gulf in Gregory Park, St. Catherine, are irritated and protesting what they say is constant harassment by the police (who regard the area as a “challenge”). A sit down meeting with the community might help, one thinks.

21-year-old Jordan Graham was shot dead and two Jamaica Defence Force officers were injured during a reported “shoot out” in Homestead, St. Catherine. INDECOM is investigating.

The Indian High Commission has donated funds for hundreds of meals at the Good Samaritan Inn in downtown Kingston, which is run by Seventh Day Adventists and has been one of the COVID-19 vaccination sites. “India believes in a global family,” said the High Commissioner. The Inn serves the poor and homeless. Thank you, India.

Big ups to the National Baking Company Foundation for partnering with the equally amazing Food for the Poor Jamaica to build eleven homes for poor Jamaicans (last year the Foundation supported ten homes).

Infrastructure: As construction of the huge housing development in Bernard Lodge, St. Catherine, gets under way, residents and farmers are not comfortable at all with large quantities of dust. The Prime Minister toured the area today to see how things are going. I wonder if they will plant any trees over there?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness with the men in hard hats, looking at maps of his new town in Bernard Lodge, St. Catherine. Why isn’t he wearing a hard hat though? Isn’t he in danger? (Photo: Twitter)

People: The sudden passing of attorney-at-law and former President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry Nathan Robb was described as a “huge shock.” Deepest condolences to his family and former colleagues.

I know this is a sad story – but a young Jamaican man who moved to the U.S. three years ago died while trying to save a man and child from drowning at Apollo Beach, Florida on June 12. Sadly, all three died.

Politics: There are stirrings in the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), with two Mayors getting worked up at public meetings over the weekend. The PNP seems to be under the impression that local government elections are on the horizon, but the Holness administration denies this. “The tone that has been set…the “Brogad” culture” has made things worse, said PNP leader Mark Golding. (“Brogad” is an adoring title given by Jamaica Labour Party supporters to the Prime Minister, and he seems to like it).

Our Opposition Party doing something with strings and pipes. Focus! (Photo: Twitter)

Meanwhile, the PNP had some kind of retreat and a video of several of them doing one of those rather embarrassing “team-building” exercises appeared on Twitter over the weekend. Will it work? Do those things ever work?

In other news, disgraced Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament George Wright is still looking for a seat.

Tourism: Jamaica is currently on the “Amber List” for travel to/from the UK, although several other Caribbean islands are moving onto the “Green List.” The Ministry of Marketing (oops sorry, tourism) says there may be adjustments to the Amber List later this summer, which will show Jamaica in a more favorable light.

Minister Edmund Bartlett also says there will be special offers this summer at hotels for locals to crowd together and hold (illegal?) parties. Not his words – mine!

Widespread bias towards large, overseas-owned businesses in the tourism sector is evident, concluded the Caribbean Policy Research Institute in their recent report “Sun, Sand, and Sustainability” with smaller players sidelined and disempowered. CaPRI is recommending a more diverse approach, and less of the mass market mentality, packing as many people as possible into hotels. You can watch the discussion on YouTube here. In a television discussion, Dr. Damien King pointed to the need for more data on the sector, and for a “more consultative approach” with all the players in the industry, including of course the smaller ones. He added that a more diverse product is “necessarily more resilient.”

Meanwhile, in a presentation in the Upper House, Opposition spokesperson on Tourism Senator Janice Allen suggested that the so-called “Elegant Corridor” leading into Montego Bay, where a number of upscale hotels are located, should be named after former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who she claims was instrumental in building this luxury hotel neighborhood.

And the ever-enthusiastic Delano Seiveright, Senior Strategist and Senior Advisor in the Tourism Ministry, is talking up the visit of the Saudi Tourist Minister. The words “resilience” and “sustainability” were thrown around quite a bit. The possibility of airline connectivity between Mexico, the Caribbean and the Middle East was up for discussion.

The Minister of Tourism for Saudi Arabia His Excellency Ahmed Al Kateeb (left) plays a drum with veteran reggae percussionist Bongo Herman while Director of Tourism Donovan White looks on. Mr. Herman seems rather amused. The photo was taken at the Bob Marley Museum. (Photo: JIS)

Transportation and Road Safety: The Transport Authority seems anxious to find people operating with an unlicensed vehicle for Uber. I find this quite amusing, considering that our current taxi driver “system” operates just as it pleases… Let’s see how it goes. There have been quite a few positive reports on using Uber in Jamaica so far, with some negatives reported from personal experiences.

There was a tragic road crash on the main road in Trelawny (an absolutely murderous race track, in my view!) where Sergeant Marlon Smith, a policeman assigned to protect Finance Minister Nigel Clarke was killed. He was traveling from Kingston to Montego Bay in a separate car from the Minister.

We have had a record number of motorcyclist deaths this year to date. A number of these occurred during curfew hours. More in future posts.

Here are just a few of the sad stories of deaths in the past week. My condolences to the families and friends of all those who have died violently, or who have suffered from violent crime.

Tasheika McKay, 25, in Rhoden Hall, Kellits, Clarendon. Her alleged killer subsequently committed suicide while in police custody.

43-year-old Hogan Jones, a cook shop owner, was shot dead on Main Street in Buff Bay, Portland.

21-year-old Jordan Graham was shot dead by security forces during an alleged shoot out in Homestead, St. Catherine. (see above)

The brother of a popular dancehall figure “Foota Hype” was murdered in Cassava Piece, St. Andrew.

19-year-old Nicole Marshall was killed and two were injured in a drive by shooting in Boscobel, St. Mary.

A really nice photo from the first vaccination “blitz” back in April shows Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton bumping elbows with 104-year-old Hazel Espeut, who was among over 1,000 elderly persons who turned out at the National Arena on April 3. Things seemed more optimistic then regarding vaccines. Now a couple of months later we are, frankly, rather desperate for more. I hope we get back on track soon! (Photo: Dave Reid/JIS)

3 thoughts on “Jamaica Update, June 28, 2021: Anxious doctors, relaxed protocols, and the Saudis visit

  1. My heart bleeds for Jamaica…so much natural beauty and lovely people…many of them. Emma, stay safe with your family. What a crazy world we live in. Would LOVE to visit you again,one day Love Lucinda

    Like

    1. Dear Lucinda, How wonderful to hear from you! Yes, we are having a rough time, but then so are many other countries… We are staying safe. Hope you are too! Take care and hope we will meet again – one day!

      Like

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