Holness's balancing act
PRIME Minister Andrew Holness is defending his Administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic despite recent criticisms following a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, a shortage of hospital beds and problems in getting well-needed oxygen to some medical facilities.
Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) had identified Jamaica as one of the countries which had best prepared for the pandemic.
“Thank you so much for your leadership – and preparedness – for #COVID19, @christufton. #Jamaica Being ready for #coronavirus is key to pushing it back fast. Together, for a safer world!” WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had posted on Twitter.
But since then the Holness Administration has faced criticisms as a number of countries closed their borders to Jamaicans because of the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate that has been over 30 per cent on some days.
Responding to the critics during an interview with the Jamaica Observer last Thursday, Holness argued that the facts show that “Jamaica continues to manage the pandemic exceptionally well”.
According to Holness: “Regardless of the spikes that we have had, the system that we have put in place is robust, it’s evidence-based, it’s always scientifically determined [and] it is situationally appropriate. We craft measures according to circumstances and it is proportionate, meaning that we don’t do more than we need to do to bring the situation under control.
“If you look at Jamaica relative to other countries, Jamaica’s size and circumstances, you would see that we have not only managed to save lives but to maintain livelihoods.”
The prime minister pointed out that due to the pandemic some countries in similar positions to Jamaica have been expressing concern about their ability to meet their expenses and pay their debt.
“We have managed the pandemic through careful balance, and so if you are just using a metric of how many persons are infected then you would just be using one dimension of the pandemic. You have to first add the social stability which continues in the country [and] you have to look at economic activity.
“If you were to take Jamaica and compare it to other countries in the region, Jamaica’s borders are open – we were among the first to reopen for tourism. Almost 600,000 persons have visited Jamaica since we resumed controlled entry into the country, and that is a massive impact on our economy. To do that while managing the pandemic at the same time is incredible,” said Holness.
He argued that Jamaica has been able to enforce the COVID-19 protocols with great understanding, unlike the heavy-handed measures used in some countries which have pushed their citizens to take to the streets in riot.
“I think the way the Government has operated in terms of managing the economy, managing the social tensions that could exist, and managing the health situation, I think it’s credible. I think it is worthy of credit and I think Jamaica stands among the countries that have done very well in managing the pandemic,” declared Holness.
With some critics pointing to his decision to call general elections last September and a spike in the number of cases in its aftermath as proof that the Administration dropped the ball in the management of the pandemic, Holness argued that the critics have failed to note that after the spike the Government reduced the curfew hours that were in place, which led to many businesses picking up and the economy getting a boost.
“Unfortunately, people who have the ears of the public, people who are regarded and respected as icons of the society, who have a microphone, who have access to social media and other media, they are not particularly helpful with some of the ideas that they put forward in the public space. That has been the challenge in the society.
“People who know better and should be speaking out more are quiet, or afraid, or looking out for their special interest when we really need as a nation to be speaking with one voice as to how we move forward,” reasoned Holness.
“The greater challenge in managing the pandemic…is the ‘infodemic’, this deluge of content and information which doesn’t make sense, and what we are also finding is that there are persons who are being opportunistic in latching on to this infodemic to create social contention and dissonance in the society,” argued Holness.