Massive COVID punch

A hot-off-the-press review by a top public health specialist has given rare commendation to Jamaica’s politicians for their outstanding role in the country’s management of the devastating novel coronavirus pandemic at the community level.

Professor Winston “Winty” Davidson, at the same time, listed the tourism industry among the exceptional performers in putting Jamaica on the path to reopening the economy after the battering by the pandemic.

He made the observations in a presentation to local and international doctors meeting virtually Saturday on day three of the four-day Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) annual symposium.

Among the key elements of the pandemic management he cited was Government-Opposition unity, declaring that it had been necessary to ensure “national trust and confidence of the Jamaican people in the sustained management of the pandemic at the critical level of the communities”.

“Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding have to be highly commended for their political maturity. They put the people first at a critical time in the life of the nation,” Dr Davidson told the Jamaica Observer after his delivery.

Davidson, a former junior minister for health, said Jamaicans as a whole deserved commendation for their resilience in combating the novel coronavirus, given the beating the island took from the disease.

His review of the public health response to the pandemic was commissioned by the umbrella Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), and conducted between the period January and May 2021.

In his keynote presentation, he cited United Nations data saying that Jamaica was one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the pandemic due, not only to its reliance on tourism, but the extensive linkages into other industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, energy, construction and financial services.

He said that tourism represents a significant contribution to 50 per cent of Jamaica’s foreign exchange earnings, and accounted for 30 per cent of employment and 30 per cent of direct and indirect gross domestic product (GDP).

The pandemic, he noted, had shut down a US$4-billion industry that was the economic engine of Jamaica, robbing it of 350,000 jobs, putting employees at risk of losing their houses, cars or even keeping food on their tables, amid collapsing disposable income.

The banking sector had been exposed to the tourism industry to the extent of $56 billion, threatening a banking crisis that had forced the sector to initiate a proactive approach “to collectively support keeping the tourism infrastructure from insolvency by rescheduling debt payments to date”.

All this was happening while the United States, Jamaica’s number one source market, was in crisis economically, as well as battling to control the pandemic.

“Not many countries could have survived such a devastation as Jamaica did. It’s a big deal and our people should be commended for their resilience,” Dr Davidson told the Observer.

He recalled for the MAJ audience that pre-COVID-19, tourism in Jamaica had a capacity made up of a wide range of operators of hotels, transport, attractions, shopping, craft markets, restaurants and bars collectively referred to as the tourism infrastructure.

This came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 when borders rightfully were closed to prepare the country for risk mitigation.

Dr Davidson argued that the two inextricably linked sides of the pandemic were expressed in the impact on the relationship between the public health control of the pandemic; the impact on the economy; and the responses necessary to sustain basic human life, survival and human dignity.

“To achieve the best outcome, there must be a finely calibrated, balanced relationship between the strict observance of the scientific protocols of the public health side, while seeking to enable economic activities which do not undermine the public health safety, management and control measures. This is the most formidable challenge for ensuring control of the present COVID pandemic.”

Further, Professor Davidson cited the tourism sector for exceptional impact as measured by COVID-19 positivity rates of less than one per cent in specific domains.

“The Ministry of Tourism’s new and innovative Resilient Corridor project has demonstrated that realistic positive outcomes are possible in achieving the delicate balance between the scientific rigour of adherence to the public health protocols, while at the same time carrying out significant economic recovery activities in the public interest,” he said.

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