David Abrikian | COVID and Christmas
AS WE approach the Christmas season, COVID-19 considerations will, for many, become an increasingly larger preoccupation.The spending surges that many businesses look forward to at this time of year, the festivities, the mingling and merrymaking that have become so much a part of the season, all these and more will be on the minds of many, in particular, concerns relating to how these activities will fit into an ongoing pandemic, and vice versa.
And the trial run that we had in last year’s Christmas will not help to reduce the concern.
The lessening of the COVID-19 restriction by one hour has sent a powerful message, of greater significance than would appear on the surface, for what it does is provide a reminder of the tremendous need for caution regarding any reduction in anti-COVID measures. The only drawback is that with even a small reduction in restrictions, there will invariably be an increase in infections, likewise leading to an increase in fatalities.
Although our national memory is very short on many things, we can surely find the wherewithal to look back to less than four months ago in order to get a perspective on the current situation.
We may recall that on July 20, after 58 consecutive days (with the exception of one) in which the daily recoveries exceeded the number of new infections, the number of active cases was down to 3,400. For that period, the average number of daily new infections was 57.26, and it is absolutely credible to expect that, if the restrictions that had been in place before July 1 had been maintained, the daily new infections would have kept on at about the same rate, or even less.
For argument’s sake, using an even higher average of 60 per day, the total expected number of new infections for the 124 days between July 20 and November 20 inclusive would be 124 times 60; that is 7,440. If we add that to the 3,400 active cases at the time, we get a total of 10,840 cases. The sad, sordid, but nevertheless unavoidable statistic of 2.5 per cent, representing the number of infected persons who have died, would predict a fatality over that period of 0.025 x 10,840, which is 271.
However, following the relaxation of restrictions, the number of fatalities between July 20 and November 20 is actually a staggering 1,199, which is 928 more. In other words, there is every reason to believe that due to the opening up in July, there were over 900 fatalities that could have been avoided if the restrictions had been maintained.
In the last three or so weeks, the trend has been for the daily recoveries to exceed new infections, but this has not yet materialised into full consistency; and on many days, the low number of new infections is due to the reduced number of tests carried out. So the trend at the moment is far from reliable and certainly not an established one. Further to that, the number of active cases is still over 26,000, a far cry from the 3,400 of July 20. We are certainly not yet over the third wave, and nowhere near moving into a post-COVID-19 phase.
In fact, without any more additions, the expected number of fatalities from the current number of active cases is over 600, unless some carefully investigated and sensibly prescribed treatment can be found, possibly Ivermectin, which the Government appears to be shying away from, in spite of indications that it may be a potentially effective cure.
However, prevention is always better than cure. Governing this country is no doubt a difficult task, given all the pressures that abound. But our PM has given the assurance that the Government will never again bow to pressures from persons to relax the needed anti-COVID restrictions. As recorded in The Star of September 2, he has vowed to take a “different type of management of the pandemic going forward”.
To put it bluntly, the Government has it within its power to either prevent or facilitate a fourth wave in Jamaica, and every decision regarding the virus needs to be made with that in mind.
And it is almost certain that if the restrictions are lifted much further, another surge will erupt.
In fact, as the Christmas season approaches, there may be the need to reinstate some tighter restrictions on the Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on weekdays. Certainly not any no-movement days, but rather, a tightening up of the evening hours in order to compensate for, and to help to rein in, the mingling and unbridled group events that are bound to occur and extend over and beyond what the restrictions at the time would allow.
If there is to be no more lockdowns, then the Government needs to be sure that there is in fact no need for any lockdown. And the easiest, if not the only way to do this is to judiciously manage the restrictions.
If the anti-vaxxers are to be responsible for their own fate, with no special accommodation from the health services, it needs to be ensured that those who are not anti-vaxxers, but have not yet been vaccinated, are not treated in the same way. And with only 17 per cent of the country being vaccinated, there must be a considerable number of persons waiting and wanting to be, but not yet vaccinated.
When the third wave started on July 20, in 21 days, on August 10, all the seven major hospitals in the island were full to capacity, with one being over 200 per cent of the maximum. And the surge had just started going. The toll on the healthcare sector was unbearable, and that must not happen again.
Apart from the uncontainable spread and fatalities, another surge would demand significant resources that, in addition to anything else, will be needed to address the other major scourge in the island, namely, crime.
The Government, like the country, is in a rough position and we need to provide our unified support regarding the situation and the decisions that need to be taken. Things cannot just be left up to individual conduct, although that will always be a part of it. But government policy and choice must continuously take into account the expected behaviour of the populace it oversees.
So, Christmas this year is probably destined to be a rather subdued and quiet one, but it can still be no less meaningful, and, in fact, due to COVID, may be even more so than the regular, often frantic season that it usually is.
And it might be worth considering that the event the season celebrates also occurred in a rather solitary, mundane, out-of-the-way, and almost non-descript location and manner.
In what will possibly be an unwelcome solitude of sorts for most, there may be greater opportunity to reflect on Him, and on the abundance of things for which we still need to be so exceedingly grateful.
David Abrikian is a civil engineer and the presiding clerk of the Quaker Church in Jamaica.