“If you cyah hear you must feel” ….”Who cyah hear will feel”…. “If you don’t listen you will not learn”.
These Jamaican colloquial statements are understood by many children and grandchildren in the attempts by parents and the older generation to steer them away from matters deemed unacceptable. The reality of these statements are within the context of the fight against the invisible enemy — COVID-19 and the recent spiralling of positive cases in the country, seemingly caused by non-compliance to the infection prevention control measures.
Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist who chronicled The Art of War over 2000 years ago, warned that in fighting a war the enemy can re-emerge.
Here we are today, grappling with the upsurge of the invisible enemy. The country has now surpassed 2,000 people infected with the virus and 21 deaths at the time of writing this article. This may appear minuscule based on per capita analysis of less than one percent of the population diagnosed with the disease. The mortality rate to date also stands at less than one percent. Despite the low numbers, which may be perceived as insignificant data, there is a tremendous impact on the social, economic, geopolitical and health systems of the country and on one’s mental and affective domains.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States communicated a travel warning for Jamaica. The USA and the United Kingdom consequently warned its citizens of non-essential travel to Jamaica. Of note is that these countries are in the top tier of Jamaica’s tourism source market; another possible damper on travel and tourism to the destination. Barbados, one of our own, has removed Jamaica from its ‘travel bubble’’ placing the country among high-risk ones in terms of community spread. Surprised at these countries’ decisions? Not at all! This is not media sensationalism, this is protecting the citizenry.
One’s Individual Responsibility
Nonetheless, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) cannot do it alone in protecting its citizens. Despite the warnings and public awareness, people are seen in open/public spaces without masks and having no- or little regard for the person who is wearing a mask to protect them. This is certainly an imbalance, but who cares? It is our individual responsibility to ensure that we protect ourselves and others against contracting and spreading the virus. This can be done by adhering to the protocols of mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing and sanitizing, as well as physical distancing. We have seen where European countries, as well as Canada and China, with increased compliance to these health and safety protocols are achieving success in reducing the spread of the virus as well as subsequent death rates.
Here at home, the tourists are being managed; they seem to understand their expectations in complying with and adhering to the health and safety protocols. Based on the statistics put forward by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) on August 30, 2020, among the majority of cases are those that are imported; 455 people representing 19 percent. Presumably, these are Jamaicans returning home. There is, however, another segment for which the specific statistic is not given. They are, collectively, those people visiting for weddings, funerals and other events including the ‘Emancipendence’ celebrations. They are the ‘Jam-Americans’, ‘Jam-Canadians’ and ‘Jam-Europeans’ who visit for a short period of time to attend these events without adequate time and sometimes space to quarantine. They socialise as well as enter the business space for various reasons. Many of them would have stayed with friends and family, the traditional ‘Visiting Friends and Family’ market.
How do we account for these people, not being able to test all incoming passengers? The Controlled Entry Programme with travel authorization based on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing is not foolproof. There is no guarantee that prior to travelling the person could not have contracted the virus after being tested negative. Nevertheless, based on probability, this should have been implemented way back when the ports were re-opened and before reality struck regarding the limited resources to carry out large-scale testing at the ports of entry.
Another reality is that it is difficult to adhere to physical distancing as sociable beings. To paint a clear picture of the current scene… the workforce has been returning to the physical space: church members are meeting, and families and friends are gathering. Shoppers are buying; vendors are selling, people are engaging in other business transactions, some taking ‘a risk’ by being ‘out’, and others ‘palaving’.
On Nomination Day, we all saw the political gimmicks on our streets with supporters of the two main parties mask-less and in a state of affairs where physical distancing was impossible. The spread of the virus during this time is inevitable as clearly demonstrated. In addition, the general election was held on September 3, 2020. Sun Tzu recommended that the general of the army needs to be wise, and gather and analyze data to make the right decisions at the optima time. It is hoped that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who represents the general in fighting the war against COVID-19, would have gathered the relevant data to make such a decision for the general election during this period of a pandemic. Schools are scheduled to reopen on October 5, 2020, with face-to-face engagements. Children will be exposed to social and physical encounters, and teachers will be challenged in separating classmates and school friends. Life goes on and as frequently uttered: “We have to learn to live with COVID”. What then is the solution?
Analyzing Human Behaviour amidst Fighting COVID-19
The question of finding the solution has led to the analysis of human behaviour and subsequent reason/s for non-compliance to regulations. Human behaviour theorists posit that human behaviour is influenced by the following factors:
- Ability: Capability to learn from the surrounding environment
- Gender: Characterizing men as agile and female as nurturer
- Race and culture: Beliefs and cultural and social practices determine one’s behaviour.
- Perception: One’s thoughts and beliefs
- Attribution: One’s behaviour in the situation
- Attitudes: Indifference response or reaction, positive or negative
Within this framework, it should not be difficult for Jamaicans to see what is happening in the environment and learn from it: the loss of jobs, burden on the health sector, deaths and hardship, to name a few. This is also a global occurrence and so the greener pastures, as once believed, are experiencing similar issues. Without discrimination, is the ability an issue among the populace in understanding the nature of COVID-19 and in complying with the health and safety standards?
In regards to gender, statistics from the MOHW (August 30, 2020) show that more females (59%) than males (41%) have contracted the virus. Though representative of the population where there are more females than males, is this suggesting that since females are nurturers in taking care of their families, they have to be out of the safety of their homes, working or shopping? This would ostensibly make them more vulnerable in terms of the spatial distribution of people. Could it also mean that their health status is less satisfactory than their counterpart? Being nurturers, females tend to spend more time caring for others and may neglect self-care.
As posited, beliefs and social practices are based on race and culture and determine one’s behaviour. Jamaicans are often described as free-spirited and resilient. Are these reasons for non-compliance with the infection prevention control measures? Is there the belief that all will be well soon? Information gleaned so far includes the thinking that the virus will be killed by the heat of the sun and from consuming bush teas. Some people also believe that they are invincible and cannot contract the disease. Are these your thoughts? Perceptions formulate hypotheses and create the basis for statistical assessment. These could be possible areas of study for scholars. Additionally, there are various religious sects who strongly believe that their supreme being will take care of them; hence, there is no need to wear masks even in their place of worship. Theologians and culturists can expound.
One’s attribution is critical to one’s behaviour. A church leader having travelled abroad returned to Jamaica and without conformance to the COVID-19 protocols caused an entire community to be quarantined. Is this morally right? Without prejudice, with such church leadership designation, the members will do as they see. What is correct is that one’s attitude is critical in fighting against the virus.
Be Empathetic to Health-Care Professionals
Health-care professionals are now being severely impacted. Doctors are burnt out; having to work long hours in overcrowded health facilities and in quarantined communities and clusters amidst limited resources. More doctors and nurses are contracting the virus. Have we considered that despite the pledge they have made to take care of the sick, that they too are human beings? Jamaicans are to be reminded of the fact that these health-care professionals have families to include young children and older persons with whom they live.
Some of these health-care professionals face the risk of respiratory morbidity as well as have other underlying health conditions. Having co-morbidities makes them highly susceptible to the virus. Despite being essential workers, it is unfair to them when individuals and groups of people are being carefree and careless in their actions.
What is the Solution?
Sun Tzu reminds us that a war cannot be prolonged due to its associated cost and drain on resources, hence, the question once more is ‘What is the solution?’ Recently, the GOJ tightened restrictions on outdoor and entertainment activities as well as funerals and weddings. Some people argue for the closure of the borders. As stated by the prime minister, he is not prepared to do so due to the economic cost. A discourse is that the Government needs to apply stricter penalties for non-compliance with the COVID-19 protocols. There is, also, the view that public health inspectors in each parish should be more active in carrying out surveillances of church and other gatherings to ensure compliance.
There is no doubt that being proactive will reduce the stress already faced by medical and other health care professionals. This will also reduce the associated costs in carrying out COVID-19 tests. In spite of these suggestions, the responsibility of protecting self and others resides with each person.
Fellow Jamaicans, let us not be irresponsible and disillusioned by selfish reasons. Our country is in dire straits, balancing health and economy. Let us not increase the current statistics of 26 percent for contacts of confirmed cases (606 cases) or the 9 percent (212 cases) for local transmission cases that are not epidemiologically linked.
There is power in ‘staying in agreement’ with the health and safety protocols. Let us all listen, hear and play our individual roles in preventing any further spread of COVID-19. We do not have to feel the added consequence of economic hardship and despondency from the illness faced by, or the loss of loved ones. Be reminded that …..“If you cyah hear you must feel” ….”Who cyah hear will feel”….”If you don’t listen you will not learn.”
Yield. Be responsible, please!
— Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh is an educator at University of Technology, Jamaica