Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Mark Wignall | Dunces, COVID-19 and the long haul

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:26 AM

Men wearing dust masks while playing dominoes along the New River Road in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth on Friday, March 27.
Men wearing dust masks while playing dominoes along the New River Road in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth on Friday, March 27.

Chupski dons her mask once she ventures out in public. To the bank, the supermarket, the ­pharmacy, the ATM. So far I have never even tried on the one I have. Maybe I should have worn it last Thursday mid-­morning as I stood at the entrance to the supermarket.

A young woman ahead of me was refusing the hand sanitiser being applied by the guard at the door. “Mi nuh know a whey dat come from. Mi nuh want it in mi han.”

The guard rolled his eyes as he registered impatience. “Yu can’t come in if you don’t use it,” he said. She then extracted a bottle from her purse and said, “A dis mi use.” She applied whatever was in the bottle and he allowed her to enter the supermarket.

I am seriously doubtful if it has reached the vast majority of our people that protective action on their part must follow in lockstep to all of the regular ­pronouncements from the Health Ministry.

I do not really know if it has fully dawned on our people that the fabric of all of the realities that we have grown used to for a lifetime is in the process of being ripped apart by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective political leadership requires that the laws against casual and unrestrained gatherings be firmly enforced because many of us will not respond unless the shouts transform themselves into pain against the person. Too many people in this country are still locked into the idea, turned reality in their heads that COVID-19 is everything else but what the authorities say it is.

For this reason, many people at street level are their own experts and are mistrustful of what ­international and local health authorities have said is the genesis of the virus. And, of course, in those situations too ­uncomfortably high a percentage are also experts on their pet cures.

Our political leaders and those fully attuned to realities know that after the global passage of the virus will have waned and we begin to put our lives back together, we Jamaicans will be faced with the gargantuan task of fashioning a better tapestry and a better society.

Our efforts on the path to recovery will have to be applied in orders of magnitude to provide our children and grandchildren the safe and secure future that is our responsibility to them.

As Sunday moves into Monday, none of us, not the planners with their fancy mathematical modelling or the man at street level with his ‘gut feeling’ as his best guide can quite tell what the state of this country will be like two, three months from now.

Curfew or security dry-run?

In the halcyon days pre-COVID-19 times when our most pressing problem was the constancy of gun killings, I believed that it was futile for the Government to dish out any details even if they did in fact have a crime plan. To me, all the crime plans were covered under the various states of emergency and zones of special operations (where focus was made on social issues.)

Last Wednesday, a one-week all-island curfew was imposed on our people. All movement of non-essential workers would be restricted from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day. That move was supposedly done to restrict the nocturnal activities of Jamaicans. Those tempted to visit bars still illegally opened. Those gathered in and at the edge of inner-city pockets in their usual hanging out, drinking at house bars and playing dominoes.

In other words, those breaking the cardinal rule during COVID-19: social distancing.

“Is a test by di police,” said the 45-year-old car washer to me last Thursday. I found myself agreeing with him.

My reasoning was supported by the social and economic unknowns that lie ahead. I never expect the political authorities to tell the truth 100 per cent of the times. They will only do that when there is an immediate ­benefit in doing so.

We have no idea what the state of the economy will be if this reduced social activity and economic freeze remain with us for the next three months and more. In such a scenario, I would expect our security experts to plan for all outcomes.

The streets may erupt. There has to be a plan for that. But then again, the streets may surprise us, with people still remaining calm. But if the kitchen cupboard dries up and households totally run out of cash, what then?

The vast majority of our poorest people will not necessarily turn to crime if they become even poorer. But during a period where jobs have dried up and even those who would assist find themselves needing assistance, we may travel to a landscape that is bare and immediately hopeless.

A plan must be there for that.

Water, rum, cigarettes, and ganja

“There is never an ill wind which blows no good” is a quote I became familiar with after the passage of the terrible Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

Inside the little shop on the edge of a ghetto, young men were gathered. Last week, they were breaking every rule of social distancing. I remained outside as I shouted the owner’s name. “What items selling now more than before?”

He answered instantly: “White rum and ganja.” Actually, he has no spirit licence, but this is Jamaica, and he is doing a brisk business, especially at a time when bars have been shuttered and those opened illegally have been forced to have one eye out for the cops.

The supermarket owner just up the road said: “I have seen a spike in sales of water, white rum, and cigarettes. Other than that, people are buying the usual food items.”

A little over a week ago, a friend of mine, a bar operator, was raided by the police and she and her barmaid were arrested and immediately given bail.

“Mi know mi break di law, but di bar maid just have a baby. I could operate alone more skilfully, but it hard fi sen her home fi starve.”