By Trevann Hamilton
COVID-19 has been with the island since March and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. COVID-19 has caused us to be living a “new normal” and has changed our way of going about many things. In addition to that, the pandemic has revealed or brought to the forefront some of the issues the country has been facing. Here are 4 things COVID-19 has revealed about Jamaica:
1. Working From Home WAS Possible– Many employees have been begging their bosses to do their work from home. Fighting to get into a taxi or bus then sitting in traffic twice a day can wear anyone down. Even those who have their own vehicle wouldn’t have minded saving money on gas. Many employers said that it simply could not be done. However, when the work from home order came into effect in March, suddenly, businesses found a way to make it work. Naturally, everyone will never be able to work from home but many could have and weren’t allowed to. Since the orders ended, (which may have been premature in my opinion) so many companies have had to close and sanitize their premises because of COVID-19. I just hope that when the pandemic ends, those who want to work from home will be given the freedom to since it’s clear that it is possible.
2. Internet Penetration Needs Improvement- Schools were closed in an effort to protect children and teachers and to curb the spread of the virus. However, while online learning became a necessity, many children were left behind. For some people, everyone in a household not having their own laptop and smartphone sounds absurd but due to the nature of capitalism, it’s a reality for many households. Some households not only lack devices but they don’t have reliable WiFi. According to the data, in January 2020, internet penetration in Jamaica was 55%.
Just to provide a comparison, Trinidad, our distant Caribbean neighbour, had more than 77.3% internet penetration in 2017. Even when schools reopen, many students will still have difficulty doing school work and so a change is definitely needed there. The government says they will be providing tablets and laptops to marginalized students and while I hope this gets done, I hope someone jumps on board to provide internet to them as well. In addition to that, those devices will only be provided to students on PATH but they’re many out there not on the programme that need access to these resources and unfortunately, gathering in a library isn’t a good idea in a pandemic.
3. Basic Scientific Knowledge is Lacking and it’s Dangerous- This is not unique to Jamaica. I remember sitting in my university chemistry class when a lecturer said we weren’t taught science well over the years. I believe this lecturer because it’s evident. The lack of basic scientific knowledge coupled with how quickly misinformation spreads is dangerous. There were WhatsApp messages going around of substances with erroneous pH levels. I was seeing pH levels of even 22. The pH scale ranges from 0-14. If I had gotten a message like that, I wouldn’t even think twice about not forwarding it. However, people think the information is credible.
I’m not expecting everyone to have in-depth knowledge of science and people won’t readily google things unless they perceive there is an error. However, if people had good knowledge of science, the idea that 5G towers were spreading the virus wouldn’t have gained steam. Most of these myths are debunked in a quick Google search and while I’ve recognized that there needs to be greater access to technology, many of the people spreading these rumours have smartphones and internet. As a matter of fact, these rumours are often spread online.
Spreading misinformation is dangerous and can lead to deaths. For example, it is being spread that masks are dangerous and without people fact-checking or knowing there is no basis to that argument, you’ll have people walking around without masks endangering their lives and the lives of others. Consider another reason why these myths are circulating and being believed. According to Karen Douglas, a professor of psychology at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom who was cited in Huff Post, “People are drawn to conspiracy theories during periods of crisis and uncertainty, and this is certainly one of those times.” While this may be true, I still think certain information, especially regarding our own well being, should be more widespread.
4. We Can’t Rely on Tourism- The pandemic is by no means the first reminder that relying heavily on any one industry is a bad idea. Jamaica is vulnerable to things like hurricanes that can and have put a damper on tourism. Many things can affect tourism negatively and so it’s not a great idea to put all our eggs in that basket even though it might be a profitable industry. According to Oxford Economics in 2012, “In 2010 there were almost two million stopover visitor arrivals and 910,000 cruise visitors, contributing an estimated US$ 2 billion of foreign exchange earnings to the local economy.” To provide further proof, “tourism has been the leader of economic growth in Jamaica” and “The tourism sector is also the main source of employment in Jamaica, directly employing approximately 106,024 people, with over 74,000 employed in the accommodation and restaurant sector alone”. We get it. Tourism is great. But due to its susceptibility to many conditions that affect us, it’s time to expand.
COVID-19 has been a nightmare for the global tourism industry. According to another article, “The global tourism industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, with US$320 billion lost in exports in the first five months of the year and more than 120 million jobs at risk”. I don’t have all the answers but our leaders will have to come up with practical and sustainable ways to diversify the economy especially with the dangers of climate change looming around the corner.
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