FOR some time now there have been sharp criticisms of our government for not allowing Jamaicans abroad to return home at a time when borders everywhere are closed to incoming traffic. At least one media house has been supporting this view and giving a voice to anyone who is willing to put a negative spin on this matter.
Wuhan, China, where the Covid-19 was first discovered, is separated from Jamaica by 9,011 miles of ocean. Can anyone guess how this virus got to Jamaica? Let me give a hint. It was not by telephone or WhatsApp. The virus was spread by people travelling, first from China, then to other countries. In some places, it took no more than one traveller to infect a country.
In the US, which has a different leader from our own, this matter was made light of, while our government, with its limited resources, was planning. When US President Donald Trump belatedly responded, he allowed American citizens to return home. So they crowded the airports all over the world frantically trying to get a flight. That’s how the present disaster started in the US—returning residents. Today, with only 4.25 per cent of the world’s population, the US accounts for 29.6 per cent of the world’s Covid-19 deaths.
For those who have conveniently forgotten, two Jamaicans returned to this country carrying the virus. And the cost is now not just JAM$25 billion. Ask those whose businesses will never reopen, those who have lost loved ones, those who will never catch up in time for their exams, those who have lost jobs and are staring hunger in the face.
The US has unlimited resources. Not so Jamaica. The money they are spending is just a contribution. In our case JAM$25 billion is a major sacrificial burden. I shudder to think what would happen to us if Covid-19 came a few years earlier.
These are the thoughts that are at the forefront of my mind when I hear people who should know better demanding that we make the same mistake that put the US where they are now with almost 100,000 already dead and credible stories that this figure is grossly underestimated, as those who die at home are not counted as Covid-19 cases. They want the government to just bring home the approximately 10,000 Jamaicans who want to come home. Just hearing them speak, one would think that these are four-year-olds who are crying because they want to come to mommy.
One of the women paraded on TV is “heartbroken” because her daughter is “in the sea, alone”. The impression we are being given is that she is treading water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. But, the fact is, she and the other cruise ship workers are on luxury liners. They are not in need of anything. When the number of Jamaicans expressing a wish to return at a time when airlines are not flying was 2,000, the cost to taxpayers was JAM$822 million. This is on top of the JAM$25 billion. And none of these detractors have the slightest concern that if two returning residents can cripple our country in this way, what would be the consequences if thousands from all about should descend on this fragile economy that has already sacrificed so much.
By the way, are they coming back to jobs?
One lawyer claims that her clients on the cruise ships are “bawling”. Ma’am, I have been on several cruises, and I nearly bawled too when I was confronted with 25 meat dishes and everything else in abundance. Tell that to Jamaicans who do not know better. And it’s not as if the government is not trying. People are being allowed in, but they have to be quarantined. But, despite the fact that they are quarantined in hotels, this is not enough. All of a sudden they have all become royalty. One paraded on TV was so upset that the juice they handed her was not covered. And how dare they send a Cuban doctor to attend to her who did not speak “proper English”. Another complained that she had to take the stairs to her room on the fifth floor. Your Highness, there was a power outage, Ma’am. Can anyone tell me one other country that quarantines its returning residents in luxury hotels?
Many countries have enacted travel restrictions in response to the spread of Covid-19. When the US allowed citizens to return home they were supposed to be medically screened and quarantined. This clearly did not work. In Italy, people who violated quarantine orders were jailed and also required to pay fines starting at euro 3,000. Did even these measures work? Italy has passed 32,000 Covid-19 deaths.
The goal of travel restrictions is to slow the spread of Covid-19, not to be wicked and heartless to our brothers and sisters as those with hidden agendas would have us believe. The government has the power to limit the spread of diseases through travel restrictions. That lawyer who tells us that the constitution is violated needs to continue reading until she gets to the relevant sections that govern procedures in these times. The appropriateness of a travel restriction depends upon how effective it is at reducing the spread of disease and reducing the associated costs in health, lives, and to the economy relative to the costs incurred by such restrictions.
There is a growing body of academic research on travel restrictions imposed by governments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent article in the journal Science models how China travel restrictions affected the global spread of Covid-19. It seems they used an individual-based stochastic (random) and spatial model that integrates real-world data on travel between cities and population centres and the transmissibility of this virus. What was most interesting, for me, was how people who are susceptible can acquire Covid-19 through contact with infectious individuals. Those susceptible individuals who become infected will go through a latent period and proceed to become, themselves, infectious.