By Joan Williams
As one watches the developments,
discussions, and debates taking place since the scourge of the novel coronavirus
attacked the world, it is not difficult to remember the words of Walter
Bagehot, the late British journalist, that “Poverty is such an anomaly to
rich people, that it is very difficult for them to figure out why people who
want dinner do not ring the bell.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the world’s people who are bearing the brunt of this virus are the poor and they, in reality, are close to being the majority of the world’s population.
It may appear simplistic, but I have such difficulty watching the thousands of people in high-end air-conditioned vehicles, lining up all over the USA to collect food from the food banks. For these people who are claiming to be needy have no reason to be so because they live in a country with lots of security blankets that most in the world can only dream of.
And if those people are really having difficulty finding food, what must be the plight of the really poor people all over the world, for this virus is affecting everyone.
It seems the choices facing the really poor, therefore, may probably even boil down to slowly dying from starvation/malnutrition or taking a chance that the virus will not get to them.
Take my own home Jamaica where under 10% of adults were, up to recently, said to be unemployed. But at the same time we must recall that approximately a fifth of those who are registered as employed include small farmers whose existence is determined by the elements. Worse off are those who hustle day by day, driving route taxis or selling anything from sweets to a few fruits to earn enough to buy food daily.
The day these people do not do that, is
the day they may not have food for their children.
Recently, a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company in Jamaica was found to have a significant number of people suffering from the coronavirus. These companies in Jamaica have been a major source of employment, providing jobs for some 40,000 people, mainly women. According to the reports, one of the main companies involved in that industry had not been observing hygienic practices and that is where the virus spread exponentially, causing Jamaica’s contagion rate to double overnight.
What bothers me though was the panic reaction from some influential quarters calling for the BPO industry to be locked down and some are even urging the Government to lock down the country entirely!!
Those proposing that solution, in my humble opinion, are either complete idiots, people who think what happens in the USA must be emulated regardless of other circumstances or fall into Bagehot’s description of the rich as quoted above.
For the question arises, if these establishments are closed, what will happen to the 40,000 people who depend on the pay cheque earned in these establishments if they are closed? (It is estimated that every working head of household, supports a family of 5 others in Jamaica).
Yes, the rich USA and European countries can afford to lock down indefinitely, but very few third world countries can afford to.
In Jamaica, already our tourism industry
has been devastated, there is little demand for bauxite and even remittances
have dried up.
As far as I am concerned, the Government has been making the right moves by closing the schools, testing as many people as they can, tracing those who they have come in touch with, quarantining selected areas where many are affected and instituting a nightly curfew.
However, I don’t know if closing down the parish of St Catherine was necessary. Yes, the problem occurred in Portmore and that is a structured community so a lockdown may work. But the rest of St Catherine is not like that, but more like Kingston, where ‘hustling’ is predominant.
I think the better move was to intensify the testing, quarantining and blanketing the airwaves with public education about washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing and of course the nightly curfew.
This is the successful template South Korea followed, balancing economic concerns with the public health realities, and they are receiving commendations from all over the world for the success of their practical strategies.
Happily, a number of entertainers have rallied to the cause, making music to encourage their fans to do what’s right and that will have a great impact and we have an added advantage.
This is based on studies by scientists
all over the world, who are now concluding that the BCG vaccine against TB that
children in many third world countries were forced to take before
entering primary school from the 1950s, seems to have strengthened our immune
system against this particular virus.
Walking the thin line between economic devastation and public health has to be the strategy, for cutting off the majority poor from their daily bread can only spell disaster, in both the long and short run.
I have always maintained that the worst thing that could ever happen to an individual is to be poor and sick. Right now, the ‘sick’ part will not apply as far as this virus is concerned, for the vast majority of us will not be adversely affected by it.