The following is an August 31 address to the nation by Opposition Leader Mark Golding:
My fellow Jamaicans, I am addressing you this evening at a very perilous and frightening time for our Nation.
It is clear that our healthcare system has reached a breaking point. The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed our health system and has caused a deep crisis of death and despair in our society.
The more contagious and more deadly Delta variant has caused a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, to levels never before seen in Jamaica. Over the past three days, we recorded 2,397 new cases, with the positivity rate averaging about 50 per cent. While deaths typically lag behind recorded cases, 27 deaths were recorded over the two days, and we have been regularly recording double digit deaths for several days now.
Those needing critical and intensive care have risen exponentially in recent weeks. Our healthcare workers are crying out for help. Our hospitals are overrun and under-resourced.
We have seen photographs of patients lying on mattresses on the hospital floors. We are told that manual “bag valve masks” have had to be used by medical staff for prolonged periods to enable patients to breath, where oxygen has run out. Many have suffered, and some have died, in these dire conditions.
How did we get here? Where was the planning by the Government to ensure adequate supply of oxygen? In July the Prime Minister told Parliament that arrangements were in place, but this was clearly not so.
The need for much larger-than-normal supply of oxygen was entirely predictable, once the Government decided to loosen the restrictions in July.We knew that Jamaica has the lowest vaccination rate in the English-speaking Caribbean. We knew that the very contagious Delta variant was running rampant across the world. We knew that our borders have been open to visitors, and the quarantine rules have not been effectively enforced.
Proper arrangements should have been put in place to ensure adequate supply in the event of a runaway spike of COVID cases, which was clear a clear and present danger to the people of Jamaica. The failure to do so is a
terrible dereliction of duty on the part of the Government.
If we fail to act now, we risk somber and terrifying days ahead. More than ever, we must be vigilant to stop the spread of the virus. When possible, stay at home; avoid talking up in other people’s faces, or letting them talk up in yours; wear a mask covering your nose and mouth; wash hands when you’ve been around other people; and, most of all, take the first opportunity available to you to get vaccinated.
Vaccination is the best tool we have at our disposal to prevent hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. Vaccination also puts a brake on the evolution of variants like Delta that is now ravaging the world, including Jamaica. Once
again, I urge all adult Jamaicans, and students of 12 years upwards, to get vaccinated.
Every Jamaican bears the burden of personal responsibility. Our choices matter in these perilous times, and I urge each and every one of us to follow information coming from trusted and reputable sources only. Please don’t be misled by conspiracy theories and other misinformation.
The Opposition has, on several occasions, called for a variety of measures to be taken to protect the healthcare system, healthcare workers and the Jamaican people. The Opposition stands ready to support the implementation of life saving strategies and to place our country on a path to recovery.
Indeed, I have written to the Prime Minister, calling on him to convene a summit to identify workable responses to the extremely desperate situation now facing the Jamaican people, in a demonstration of a common fixity of purpose and national unity. I again reaffirm our commitment to working with the Government to implement any and all necessary measures to help us secure a more safe and stable future for Jamaica There are some suggestions that we wish to put forward, which will help to manage our way through this terrible crisis better:
● A high-level public/private sector committee should be tasked with governance of the procurement of oxygen supplies and the logistics of oxygen delivery, with a clear mandate to plan ahead to ensure that we never again run short of oxygen in our hospitals.
● Oxygen generators should be brought into Jamaica on an emergency basis, to avoid shortages in this critical life-sustainer in the fight against what is primarily a respiratory disease. Oxygen generators will reduce the reliance on bulk oxygen and cylinders provided by the single existing supplier.
● Equipment that can test for variants must also be prioritised for purchase and deployment, as it is taking too long to get test results from samples that have to be sent overseas.
● Health care workers are the most at-risk, and the nation is depending on them to care for our citizens who fall sick. We are recommending that each parish has a dedicated healthcare staff facility, to ensure that they are looked after well and promptly if they fall ill while serving on the frontlines of the pandemic.
● Those vaccines which require less infrastructure for storage should be made available to private medical facilities to vaccinate their patients, with counselling from their trusted doctors. This will assist Jamaica to get on track towards achieving a high level of vaccination.
● There are very real challenges in many vulnerable persons getting vaccinated as a result of transportation costs and rural logistics. Vaccination blitz sites are out of the reach of many ordinary citizens. We again call for more community facilities to be used as vaccination centres, supplemented by the deployment of mobile units to visit these communities and increase the vaccine uptake.
● The efforts to vaccinate the too-often overlooked community of persons with disabilities has been inadequate. Mobile units should be used for the purpose of taking vaccines to persons with disabilities and those who are otherwise unable to travel.
● The control of our borders, in particular our airports, is ineffective. The quarantine rules are not being properly monitored for compliance. COVID testing upon arrival and follow up by the public health system should be rigorously enforced.
● With our healthcare system crumbling, it is time to insist that all visitors to our shores are vaccinated. We have to protect our citizens and our country as we fight to get out of this crisis.
Throughout the pandemic, the Opposition has called for measures to provide more support for those who are suffering from the economic ravages of the pandemic. We have repeatedly pointed out that last year’s one-time cash
grant was insufficient to protect a struggling population.
Indeed, the research institution CAPRI recently reported that the CARE programme was ineffective at reaching many of those most in need, given the high levels of informality in our economy and the bureaucratic requirements of the CARE programme that many could not comply with.
The Government ran a budget surplus of over $9 billion for the April-June quarter of this fiscal year. It must be used to protect vulnerable Jamaicans.
We should also allocate some of it so that supplies for hospitals do not run out.
And as our children head back to school, we again ask that the GCT on laptops and tablets be removed.
Our nation is at war with COVID, and the fight should be a united effort.
Unfortunately, that has been lacking so far. The Disaster Risk Management Act has been used by the Government to set the rules in the pandemic.
However, it’s main governance tool, the broad-based National Disaster Risk Council, has been abandoned. The Council has not had a single meeting since I became Leader of the Opposition last year November. The Council should be bringing together both political leaders, as well as experts from public and private sectors, to provide broad guidance and promote unity of purpose in confronting national disasters. This pandemic requires an “all hands on deck approach”, and we can start here.
My fellow Jamaicans, the coming weeks will be extremely challenging. If the trend continues, we are in for some very sombre times. It is up to the Government to lead the response; that is their duty and responsibility.
The Opposition will continue to provide suggestions and provide support in combating the pandemic. We are here to work for the Jamaican people in this fight, because a fight it indeed is.
Together, we can and we will see our way through this pandemic and its associated crises.
Let us work as one to save Jamaica, land we love.