Coronavirus
JM | Sep 9, 2021

‘Tourists ‘r us’! Holness shying away from vaccine mandate says a lot more than he thinks

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

administrator
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks with a resident on his vaccination mobilization community tour in the North East St Andrew constituency, on Wednesday, September 8. Holness stopped in several vaccine sites across Kingston and St Andrew to shore up support for and view the progress of the national effort. (Photo: Twitter @AndrewHolnessJM)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ penchant for faux-altruism may just be the death of Jamaica as he ‘justified’ reasons for not mandating tourists to be vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

On the same day (September 8) where he was seen visiting multiple vaccination sites across the island, Holness, when pressed by the media chuckled that the ‘optics’ of a mandate for tourists as a condition for entry would be ‘unfair’, whatever that means.

His reasoning? 

Well, according to the prime minister, a paltry percentage of the eligible population is fully protected against COVID-19 in Jamaica.

“It would raise the question, ‘Why are you preventing unvaccinated people from coming into Jamaica when only five per cent of your population is fully vaccinated?’, you see?” he began.

“So before we even contemplate that, what we first have to do is to get our vaccination levels way up and that is what we are on the ground doing,” Holness continued.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking on record with Radio Jamaica on Wednesday, September 8. (Video: Twitter @Aujae_Dixon)

Now you see, on paper, this ‘reads’ like the prime minister was sound in his stance and the ‘justification’ spoke to the realities of the need to “balance lives and livelihoods” as he has so often rambled.

However, there is nothing, NOTHING, defensible about Holness’ utterances. 

The rhetoric is cowardly, lazy and borderline insulting amidst the ravages of the Delta variant, its effect on the public health system and even continued efforts to persuade the wider populace to get on board with the national inoculation drive. 

The barefaced truth is, as it stands, Jamaica sits just on the precipice of disaster—COVID-19 infections and vaccine hesitancy/rejection has never been higher in this country. 

For the Leader of Government to make such a bold-faced statement, pandering to his political agenda, which he was fully aware would be publicised, is reckless. 

Now, I’m no scientist, but here are a few observations I’ve made:

  • The ‘reasoning’ tells the wider Jamaican population that zero disruptions to the tourism machinery will be tolerated.
  • It does not take into account, by the way, that many of these ‘unvaxxed’ tourists are that way by choice. In their countries of origin, which (usually) are of a higher income than Jamaica, they would have been very likely to have gotten access to the vaccine and chose not to do so, citing personal/religious/anti-scientific/other reasons. 
  • The statement fans the flame of scepticism among already vaccine-hesitant Jamaicans, as the ‘average Joe/Jane’ can now say, ‘If tourists don’t have to, why should I?’.
  • Holness’ comments fly in contradiction to the efforts of a weary public health system, that watches powerlessly as the current, greatest interest to national safety—getting infections down and the isolation wards clear—is repeatedly sidelined.
Coronavirus-related deaths continue to climb across Jamaica. (Photo: DreamsTime.com)
  • Worse still, it seems not to be an isolated way of thought from the Holness Administration, which initially sought to reopen Jamaica’s borders in June 2020 with the ‘option’ for tourists to get tested for COVID-19. Jamaicans returning to the island, however, were mandated to be tested; sparking widespread social media outrage and the optional move being scrapped.

We the people have not forgotten, Mr Holness.

This ‘Yeah Mon, No Problem’ mantra of tourism in Jamaica is a huge risk to the safety of the country. 

And what’s even more worrying, is Holness’ rhetoric was made just hours after a senior government official expressed confidence ‘Americans will still come’ to the island despite the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) slapping Jamaica with a Level Four ‘Do Not Travel’ warning.

READ: Delano Seiveright confident ‘Americans will still come’ to Jamaica despite high-level CDC warning against travel

I see you gearing up to type your rebuttals to this article, however, it behoves me to remind the public that the ‘Resilience Corridor’ the tourism sector boasts of is not (and will never be) invulnerable. 

The very same hotel workers and their guests are testing positive for the coronavirus. 

As of Tuesday, September 7, when the last clinical management summary was released by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jamaica’s positivity rate was still high, at 42.2 per cent.

At the same time, the country recorded another 672 new cases, sending the overall caseload to 73,496—22,225 of which are listed as active infections.

Jamaicans keep ‘dropping like flies’ under the impact of the Delta variant, with 20 more COVID-related fatalities (1,666 lives lost in total) kindling the fourth-worst death toll in the entire Caribbean. 

It was literally just yesterday that Jamaica passed over 600,000 vaccine doses administered, which would be a good reason to celebrate, ordinarily. But as Mr Holness rightfully claims, that is nothing compared to the fully vaccinated figure, which is the second-worst in CARICOM behind Haiti in terms of share of the eligible population.

And we don’t see a problem with this?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, addresses the inaugural CARICOM-African Summit, held virtually on Tuesday, September 7. (Photo: Michael Sloley, Jamaica Information Service)

Unno serious?

You would think my rant is a one-off anomaly but the sentiment on Twitter proves that Jamaicans, like myself, were completely shocked and in utter disbelief following Holness’ statements.

Many are wondering what will it take to save the ‘soul of Jamaica’ from the clutches of tourism. 

I wonder that too.

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