Fri | Oct 23, 2020

Peter Espeut | An endangering election exercise

Published:Friday | September 25, 2020 | 12:08 AM
Jamaica Labour Party supporters at Bryce Hill Square, August Town on election day.
Jamaica Labour Party supporters at Bryce Hill Square, August Town on election day.
People’s National Party supporters on Hope Road on election day.
People’s National Party supporters on Hope Road on election day.
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Last Saturday, I attended a church service in Mandeville; inspectors from the Ministry of Health were there, ensuring that the spacing between seated guests met their standards (two in a 20-foot pew); and they hovered over the dinner reception afterwards, ensuring that no more than 15 persons were seated in the huge auditorium which normally seats 600.

But I would like to ask, where were these inspectors on nomination day, during the election campaign, and in the aftermath?

On the day after the election, my wife and I drove from Brown’s Town through St D’Acre, Alexandria and Alva. At several points during our drive, our vehicle was blockaded by hordes of jubilant supporters associated with several long victory motorcades. There was no effort to respect the right of others to use the roadways, no compliance with social distancing, and low compliance with the mask-wearing requirements of the COVID-19 protocols, even in front of the Alexandria Police Station.

It seems that there are two sets of rules. Why is the church held to one standard, while, on the other hand, there are instances where people seem to be given a free pass to ignore and break the regulations under the Disaster Risk Management Act?

Up to nomination day 2020, August 18 – Day 162 of the COVID-19 pandemic –14 persons were known to have succumbed to the virus; in the 16 days between nomination day and election day the virus killed an additional 15 persons – doubling the death toll to 29; twenty days later by Day 198 of the pandemic, September 23 – an additional 48 persons had died. The 2020 general election, though largely peaceful, may go down as the campaign that has been the second deadliest in our history, after the costly ideological war of 1980. In the 36 days since nomination day, the coronavirus is known to have killed 63 persons, compared to 14 deaths in the previous 162 days.

In the 162 days before nomination day there were 1,146 known COVID-19 cases; in the 36 days since the election period began, up to last Wednesday – Day 198, there were 4,442 additional coronavirus cases – a 388 per cent increase.

INDISCIPLINE

It has been told to Jamaicans that it is inevitable for the cases to rise exponentially and we should be prepared for it.

It is not enough to blame the dramatic (exponential?) increase in known positive coronavirus cases on the well-known indiscipline of the Jamaican people – especially during an election campaign. Because political indiscipline is well known – especially well known by the politicians themselves – they should have put measures in place during the campaign period to reduce the possibility of thousands of new infections and dozens of deaths. Don’t the people who are flouting the rules care about the lives of Jamaicans?

One can only come to the conclusion that conditions were created which led to the huge morbidity and mortality.

Whatever the good reasons may have been for calling the election at this time (and we have not been told what those are), the failure of the leaders to restrain their supporters during this pandemic, which more than likely is one of the major factors in the increase of COVID-19 cases, will forever be a blot on the face of the country.

The administration did well in the early days of the pandemic, but recently have dropped the ball. They opened up the country to please tourism interests, and now some hoteliers complain that they are losing millions through low occupancies.

Has the cost of increased morbidity (increases in public expenditure on health) and mortality (invaluable Jamaican lives) been worth the small (and maybe negative) benefits accruing by opening up? I await the PhD theses which students of economics will write in cost-benefit analyses. Quality administrations do not govern by giving in to special interests/donors.

Now the daily COVID-19 updates are not highlighted in prominence as they were earlier; restricting information on the pandemic is not the way forward.

The Rev Peter Espeut is a sociologist, development scientist and Dean of Studies at St Michael’s Theological College. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com