My sincere condolence to the families of the late Harriat “Harry” Maragh and Gordon “Butch” Stewart. I thank both men for their service to Jamaica and the wider world.
Happy 2021 to you all and good health and less stress for this year are my personal wishes. It has been an easy choice of resolutions going forward and many will have wished for: reduction and elimination of COVID-19; a working and available vaccine; a lifting of travel restrictions; ability to attend schools; celebrating with family and friends from overseas; going to the movies or parties; and decisions about working from home or not.
These are important decisions that will have to be made personally. The Government and the private sector will face similar institutional choices also resulting from international changes and these will have to be attended to with alacrity if 2021 is expected to be better.
These happen to be mainly based on logistics and the plans for proper preparation for implementation. I would like to identify three situations that have to be urgently considered and addressed.
Firstly, there is the acquisition of and the distribution of any COVID-19 vaccines. There are assurances given that Jamaica will obtain supplies during the first half of 2021 but that will only be a start of the operation. The complete plan will require security in-transit; appropriate storage; flexibility in delivery; training of medical and records personnel; convenient locations with extended operating hours; and follow-up tracking for any reactions or side effects. Accountability will be the only defence for theft, illegal sale, intentional mishandling, and any attempt at counterfeiting.
In Jamaica this will present a formidable task at each stage of handling the vaccines. There is also a possibility that we may receive more than one type of vaccine (of which there are upwards of 10 being developed). This will require even more stringent controls, especially where follow-up documentation is necessary. Normal clinical trials usually have a protocol of a placebo (groups given a non-active substance against which those with the active ingredients administered to another group can be contrasted and compared).
If we receive 250,000 vaccines (for 10% of the population), and each procedure (registration/verification of identity and medical history + clinical details and blood type; + vaccine administration; takes 15 minutes (conservatively), then a total time for completion will be 3,750,000 minutes (62,500 hours or 2,604 days). At 16-hour days this will take 1,718 days at one location. If we have 15 locations this will take 115 days. (A special thank you to my 11-year-old granddaughter Sierra for helping me with the calculations.)
This can be accomplished by several measures such as pre-registration through an accepted set of protocols; multiple easily-accessed centers; mobile clinics; a large number of trained personnel; and extended operating hours within any applicable curfew or other restricted movement hours. But this is assuming great efficiency and a critical efficiency focus of personnel and equipment as the criteria.
In summary, it will take management of logistics; personnel support; and public understanding to get this important life-saving work completed. It will also need management of the unpopular reactions and dissent that could come from the listing of priority recipients, or even from the indisciplined elements of our society.
Secondly, December 31, 2020 saw the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union (EU), and a fair amount of posturing prior to that. Prior to Christmas and towards the New Year saw huge delays in trucking of freight from England to France, and this caused a build-up resulting in many drivers from across Europe missing delivery deadlines and Christmas with their loved ones.
This is just the tip of an Iceberg that is gathering speed. Trucks travelling from Wales were refused entry into Ireland (which remains in the EU). Scotland seems to be gathering some strong sentiments and regrets about leaving, and I have no doubt that perhaps a referendum will happen as the realities of Brexit unfold. Among these considerations are oil revenues and fishing rights.
Passport issues for entry into the EU and reciprocally into Britain seem to be already posing some challenges to speedy travel. Certainly the freedom of movement issues will be of interest to those in the financial centres in London, and prudent management there must be considering some levels of relocation. This extends to their non-British staff often recruited for financial competence and language skills in London; and in the lower skilled employees in the hotel and tourism industry in Britain.
For Britain and the EU, local travelling and stays at small hotels and bed and breakfast rooms provide an additional income to households, a system that greatly predates Airbnb. The spin-off to pubs, wine bars, open air cafes, nightclubs, and rail and bus transportation is important, and the combination of COVID and Brexit is a serious impact on the patronage of young backpackers. An experiential educational process could be lost.
Cosmopolitan no longer? London Bridge may indeed be falling down, and the reduction from Empire to island seems to be a done deal.
Thirdly, the private sector implications also require some investigation. Jamaican and West Indian exports have largely followed the traditional Colonial dictates, and London has been seen as the only way of reaching the diaspora. Our products have been centered near Brixton, Bristol, Birmingham, and Manchester.
Only a few companies have set up operations that have made an extension into the mainstream multiples, and the large cash & carry trade. From those positions a few have made forays into the EU and enjoy strong brand images and reputations.
Shipping has been mainly to Britain, and Less Than Container Loads (LTCL) consolidated and sent across the English Channel to the EU. Transportation documentation will take on new procedures which will negatively affect costs and introduce new unproductive bureaucracies, and the possibility of retaliatory political and customs measures beyond our control.
For Caribbean cargo there will likely be increases in freight rates as cargo will lose single destinations and thereby some of our volume negotiating ability. This will affect outgoing and incoming freight costs, and please remember that the duty structures are calculated by C.I.F., not F.O.B. In fact this seems poised to have an impact on worldwide shipping and air transport. Brussels to London is no longer a domestic flight.
Finally, the private sector will have to design, implement, and conjointly share the investments that will minimize the cost elements that will be the results of the many new and changing ways of doing business. We need to agree entirely new market potential destinations and spread our wings outside of our pre-determined comfort zones.
This includes some amount of cooperative distribution to build volumes and efficiencies; access to manufacturing incentives in large non-traditional markets; and a willingness to accept that success will be based on our ability to leave home squabbles behind and work together in international areas of potential growth.
These are my areas of concern for 2021 and beyond. Think about them and act now.