Not time for despair or extreme measures


Not time for despair or extreme measures

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

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When the World Health Organization (WHO), on March 11, declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was reported as saying they had “rung the alarm bell loud and clear”.

However, he stressed that the alarm should not be misused to cause unreasonable despair or panic leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Panic, as we noted before in this space, is a natural reaction to any crisis, particularly one that affects public health.

So far, though, the efforts of the Government, with the support of the Opposition, as well as private sector leaders, to limit public anxiety, have borne some amount of fruit. But there still exists, of course, fear among some sections of the populace with each revelation of new cases of infection.

On Monday, the Government announced a number of measures designed to contain the spread of the virus which, up to yesterday, had infected 13 Jamaicans. Slowing its advance to a pace that is consistent with our capacity to manage it is vital, as our medical facilities are limited.

As such, we think the Government is making the right moves on the measures which are now in effect for seven days, and we encourage Jamaicans to observe them steadfastly. For, as the prime minister and the health and wellness minister have correctly stated, social distancing is recommended as the most effective way of controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

We also support the Administration's move to increase the island's capacity for testing, building emergency quarantine facilities, training staff, and stockpiling the materials and medicines that we already know will be needed to contain the spread of the virus and care for those who become ill.

While cool heads roll out the actions needed to limit the pace of the virus, we recognise that there are some people who prefer to panic and call for the closing of our borders. It has not dawned on them that Jamaica needs the outside world to survive.

Most of our food, medicine, energy, and machinery come from imports. As such, any physical isolation of Jamaica would endanger lives and livelihoods. The resulting devastation would be many times worse than if COVID-19 were simply left to ravage Jamaica unchecked.

Responsible action over the last seven years has created a war chest that allows us to spend the additional funds needed to prevent the spread of the virus and to encourage economic activity to recover from its negative impacts.

We are, therefore, encouraged by the Government's provision of a $25-billion stimulus to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19 as announced yesterday by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.

There is no doubt that substantially more expenditure will be needed when we enter the final phase of the virus, when infection rates start to fall and a vaccine is finally available. At that time, we will need a massive incentive programme to help businesses — micro, small, medium, and large — recover from the losses imposed by the virus and the joint effort to contain it.

It is critical that the Government not be sidetracked, and that it continues to keep a steady hand on the wheel.

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