Panic is not the answer to COVID surge

Jamaicans and their leaders can’t afford to panic, but there can be no denying the numbers.

The novel coronavirus is now running through the population at an alarming rate. Figures released by the Ministry of Health and Wellness yesterday showed 458 new COVID-19 cases and five virus-related deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Total cases since the outbreak began in Jamaica last March had reached 21,328 yesterday, and although just over 12,900 people have so far recovered from the virus, we are saddened that the death toll, up to yesterday, stood at 396.

Just to provide a perspective on the rate of spread, exactly a month earlier on January 21, Jamaica’s COVID-19 case count on that day was 108, and the total since last March was 14,058. The death toll back then was 332.

A month before that, on December 21, Jamaica’s case count on the day was 65, with a total 12,354 since March. The death toll was 288.

By now, people everywhere in Jamaica have personal knowledge or are hearing about individuals who have contracted the respiratory illness, may have got seriously ill, and sadly may even have died.

Flowing from that growing awareness, reasonable, well-thinking people shouldn’t any longer be kidding themselves into believing that “it can’t happen to me”.

We expect that, despite deep-rooted societal indiscipline and understandable protocols fatigue, the coming days and weeks will see increasing adherence to preserving personal safety through mask wearing, social distancing, etc. Also, we expect that in the current environment Jamaicans will be increasingly prepared to accept the vaccine.

Thankfully, the Government has provided funding to purchase vaccines to ensure the near three-million population can be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Allied to that is the rapid rate of increase in vaccination programmes in countries such as the United States and Britain  major source markets for Jamaica’s life-giving visitor industry.

We note a view that the Government has been too cautious in its approach to vaccinations. It’s a criticism reinforced by the roll-out of vaccine programmes in Caribbean sister countries. However, we agree with the position that it is best to await World Health Organization (WHO) approval before committing to any individual vaccine.

The last thing Jamaicans need is to hear somewhere down the road that any particular jab has dangerous, long-term side effects.

Finally, it seems to us that it was always to be expected that as COVID-19 numbers grow and pressure mounts on the health care system there would be escalating tensions and worry among health workers.

News reports to that effect in this newspaper and elsewhere confirm those expectations. Worse is the impression that those concerns are not being addressed in a sufficiently comprehensive and compassionate fashion.

It must never be forgotten that our health care workers  not just nurses and doctors  but all who work in the system are putting at risk their health and lives, and that of those to whom they go home.

Let’s also spare a thought for others, such as our security forces personnel, who must always be on the front line.

The authorities need to get a firm grip before such tensions, as we are increasingly hearing about, get out of hand.