By Vannessa Gordon
It wasn’t very long into the pandemic that I first saw an ad on TV with a very subtle message to Jamaicans to eat out in order to support the economy. When I saw it, I became confused and wondered if somewhere along the line I had missed the tipping point from “Tan a yuh yaad” to “Leave your home and support local business”. After all, it clearly isn’t very possible to do both.
At some point in time, Jamaicans, and all others around the globe will have to ‘embrace the new normal’. But I wonder what that embrace will look like and who will determine when it’s time. Jamaicans are hearing that they should stay in. In the same breath, it seems they are being encouraged to vacation on the north coast, to buy from local vendors and to support our local restaurants.
Poor, confused and confusing Jamaicans. Every time there is a surge in COVID-19 cases, the confusion seeps its way into the open, and it does so in the form of some very problematic biases. The truth is, Jamaicans blame Jamaicans for everything Jamaicans do when it comes on to this virus. If they go to church, the ‘worldlians’ will blame the spike in COVID-19 cases on them. If they stay home, church brethren will call them faithless. If they go shopping, they are irresponsible and if they don’t, they aren’t supporting the economy and the business community will bemoan the country’s economic losses on them.
Unlike many others, I won’t join the bandwagon of blaming the COVID-19 spread on our so called ‘bad behaviour’. This is because I understand that ‘bad behaviour’ has simply become a label for all activities we individually consider to be unnecessary, and therefore irresponsible, during a pandemic. And of course, with different priorities, we will all have different perspectives on what such activities actually are. Afterall, for some, attending church during a pandemic, is careless and constitutes bad behaviour.
Besides this, mixed signals have been rippling across the country, from the powers that be. And yet, I empathize with them for having to dance between raindrops to avoid prioritizing any one interest group over the other. With that said, after almost one full year of the pandemic being managed, I think I can now give a reasonable appraisal of what has become a trend in how we are communicated to, both overtly and otherwise.
Many of the directives given have been muddied, given the uncertainties around why one thing is being said but in some cases, the complete opposite is being done in practice. This accounts largely for the widespread indifference.
For instance, not long after the outset of the pandemic, two prominent dancehall artistes were observed after curfew hours engaging in a sound clash which was being streamed online. From the vantage point of viewers, the artistes were not socially distanced and were obviously not wearing masks. Of course, because no one wanted to be ‘that guy’, the artistes were praised for their artistic prowess and at no point did any of our leaders stop to address the elephant in the sound room. The subtler yet more problematic issue that had arisen was the fact that when the police went to the venue to investigate, social and political pressures apparently forced them to leave. At least, that was the impression left in many minds – the same minds we try to convince today that there is great shame in contravening COVID-19 protocol.
All this was, by the way, not long after a young man from the inner city was hauled from under his bed for breaking curfew orders. Talk about mixed signals.
With the well-populated 2021 Sigma Run having taken place a few weeks ago, I don’t think I need to spend too much time making this point. On one hand, we are dealing with a treacherous, life-threatening virus that we have to stay home in order to avoid but on the other hand, it’s clearly not life-threatening enough to prevent us from hosting a run of 100 persons. With these mixed signals echoing everywhere, it’s not surprising that we have some citizens shivering in fear and calling for a complete lockdown, while at the other end of the spectrum, others are too busy to hear the shrieks of fear and anxiety because the (after-curfew) party music is too loud.
The other issue is that many of these measures seem to be more about sending a message that the virus must be taken seriously, than actually about taking the virus seriously. For instance, we’ve seen no empirical data to actually suggest that these night-hour curfews that have been utilized over the past several months have been making any difference whatsoever. That is, except to force cook shops and other small enterprises out of business. And again, I question the usefulness of such a tool because by and large, those who are likely to be engaging in ‘COVID spreader’-type activities at night during a pandemic, are the ones breaking curfew today anyway.
What we now have is a situation in which many Jamaicans simply adhere to these protocol because well, they are protocol. Many couldn’t care less because they simply don’t see evidence suggesting that the measures being put in place are actually working. This, coupled with the many mixed signals, has contributed to widespread indifference. This phenomenon is observed uptown, downtown, Spanish Town and backroad.
If the government wants to lead by example and garner the support of the general citizenry in the fight against COVID-19, they will need to demonstrate that the measures being put in place are not only working but are being equitably and equally enforced – something not very many are convinced of. The government must start by reaching the hearts and minds of Jamaicans if they truly want to see changes in the behaviour of the citizenry.
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