Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Mark Wignall | A season of uncertainty is looming

Published:Sunday | February 2, 2020 | 12:18 AM

I know of none so brave that he or she would pretend that the rumbling of an earthquake and the shifting of the ground beneath them is just another stroll in the park. On the scare meter, it measures 99 per cent.

Last Tuesday, the fault lines near Jamaica shifted for a while, and many Jamaicans across the island found themselves facing their worst fears as the land moved and the panic grew. But Jamaica had much to be thankful for. People I spoke to at the time told me that New Kingston high-rises visibly moved and settled back in place in the 1993 earthquake.

In last Tuesday’s tremblor, those inside the high-rises of the uptown commercial district spoke more of feeling trapped inside the buildings as they hurriedly headed for what they believed was the safer option: the streets and the parking lots outside. With all of that, our buildings, which many would consider as most prone to suffering in an earthquake, held up well.

A big one with higher intensity could have much more tragic results nationally. We do not know if the quake did us a favour by relaxing the tension between the faults and plates close to us. At the same time, we must consider the possibility that it could be the precursor to the ‘big one’.

That, however, cannot be the only point of our focus now. There is enough stress each day in the news for us to further burden ourselves with the thought of a tragic earthquake. If it doesn’t come, we will be happy. If it decides to come, there is little humanly we can do to stop it. But we can prepare as best as possible.

Then, of course, there is the matter of the rapid spread of the coronavirus that could outdo the SARS scare in the early 2000s.

Between November 2002 and July 2003, an outbreak of SARS in southern China caused an eventual 8,098 cases, resulting in 774 deaths reported in 17 countries. From that time until now, the Chinese population has become much more mobile, and its economy touches every corner of the global population.

With the coronavirus spreading there, it will be impossible to slow its growth in the short and medium term. Of course, I hope I am totally wrong and the international community can be assured that the resourcefulness of the Chinese people will rise to its highest ever level. After all, to the Chinese people, they have most to lose.

Early last week, I had a conversation with a well-known doctor, a GP.

“I would suggest you go and get your face masks now just in case it reaches pandemic stage and the masks are rationed,” he said.

“Certainly you joke,” I said.

“No joke. It has the potential to break out of control.”

THE GOVERNMENT WILL BE SEVERELY TESTED

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government must remember 2007, 2008, and 2009 when the big external shock of the Great Recession was there to tarnish its new bite of the electoral cherry in September of 2007.

By 2010, the JLP administration had so embraced matters that swirled around the JLP strong man Dudus and Tivoli Gardens and the Manatt Enquiry that the People’s National Party’s (PNP) KD Knight’s theatrics of urging Prime Minister Bruce Golding to “pack your bags and go” was the signal that the curtain was about to fall.

With the coronavirus having touched down in countries far from those affected in China and its neighbours, its fate is uncertain, just as much as its death is far from imminent. Our health system is living on more air than fuel, with hospital equipment islandwide outdated and limping.

There are not many countries that are equipped with quarantine facilities that would allow them to properly clear their citizens returning from China. Of course, the more industrialised countries in Europe are capable of building out these facilities, but in Jamaica, to my knowledge, we have a quarantine area for animals entering the country but none for humans.

“What about the Jamaicans close to ground zero in China?” I asked the doctor. “Do we ask that they confine themselves there, and what legal/medical reason can we invoke to keep them there?”

“I am not a politician, but if I were, I would have to be thinking about our population right here at home and weighing the numbers quite carefully.”

The health scare of Chik V in 2014 in Jamaica did not earn the PNP Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson any plaudits. This coronavirus has no vector like mosquitoes, and islandwide fogging cannot save us from the virus if the JLP administration falls over at this time.

In fact, the many diverse elements involved in, first, keeping out the virus and, two, containing it when it reaches here, has the potential to either add political points to Andrew Holness and his happy (for now) warriors or put them on the spot and eat at their support if they fail on the coronavirus.

MIXED MENU BUT BITER DESSERT

Jamaica’s economy is headed in the right direction, but with the coronavirus affecting China and set to affect their economy, it is a cinch that a global slowdown due to that is not a scenario that would make the Holness administration comfortable.

Another earth tremblor in Jamaica between now and the next six weeks has the potential to drive our people into a state of panic. That would force the JLP’s political platform message off target and move the Government to become both family counsellor and home-repair man.

So far, there are many people on the various streets and in all types of homes in this country that have expressed to me a range of uncertainties of what is likely to happen. Many of them thrive on fake news and community rumour.

As much as we have heard from Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, it is expected that we will be hearing much more from him, the PM, and our health professionals.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com