Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Coronavirus domino effect: one couple’s hardships

Published:Monday | April 20, 2020 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Michael Wilson and his partner, Christine Roberts, farming at their home in Harkers Hall, St Catherine, on Sunday. The parish is currently under lockdown.
Michael Wilson and his partner, Christine Roberts, farming at their home in Harkers Hall, St Catherine, on Sunday. The parish is currently under lockdown.

The government-imposed lockdown of St Catherine to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus has had a particularly devastating impact on the fortunes of Harkers Hall couple Christine Roberts and Michael Wilson.

Wilson, who owns a full-operational sports bar equipped with a pool table and slot machines in Above Rocks, also in the parish, has not been able to collect any rent since the mandatory closure of bars.

He explained that with the registered bar not generating any income, his client has been unable to pay rent because of the economic fallout. Wilson also cited that some shops and grocery stores were offering limited services, illegally, by selling items through windows.

Wilson also has a road licence, which is operated by a friend whose bus plies a route, but that that income stream has also dried up, with traffic volumes at an all-time low.

DOWNTURN

The Harkers Hall couple’s woes are emblematic of the domino effect of the economic downturn that has cost tens of thousands of jobs and stifled demand except at high-traffic businesses like supermarkets, wholesales, and sanitation chemical suppliers.

The Jamaican economy is expected to contract between 3.0 and 5.6 per cent, according to the Bank of Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund, respectively, but the climate is expected to worsen as COVID-19 infections spike.

Unable to provide for his children as before, Wilson has turned to the Government’s $10-billion COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) welfare plan, under which he would qualify for assistance because of his bus route licence.

When filling out the online application form, he was careful to follow the instructions but has been left exasperated by the experience.

“My driver’s licence and my Tax Registration Number (TRN) are the same, and everything me do through the tax office, me use the same number, and yet still them say it don’t correspond with my name and date of birth.

“Me try more than one time and it naw go through, and the TRN –me know it by heart, and me know my date of birth by heart, and me know my name by heart – yet still them say me have to contact the tax office, but me can’t even leave the parish to do that,” he said in obvious frustration.

The tax offices in Linstead and Portmore have been closed in keeping with the parishwide lockdown.

Roberts, who worked in the janitorial department at Khemlani Mart in Constant Spring, St Andrew, has not been working since March 17 – a week after Jamaica recorded its first COVID case.

“There is no food, nothing, because they told us to stay in, and I am scared of it (novel coronavirus), so I just stay in and do my farming, but hungry a kill we,” she said.

In fact, with restrictions on their movements, the couple has, over the past three weeks, been focused on cultivating corn, tomato, callaloo, and other cash crops on nearby lands, but the income needed to maintain their household is currently a long way off, they said.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com