On March 10, when Jamaica reported its first case of the coronavirus, mass panic almost immediately ensued on the island, with residents rushing to buy masks and other protective gear, and stocking up on bleach, disinfectants and groceries.
In the weeks that followed, as the virus began to spread, those in close proximity to the virus began to be stigmatized. Residents that lived in areas deemed high-risk along with healthcare workers were being scored by members of the public including operators of public transportation, who refused to carry them.
Then, once the borders reopened, the stigma spread to visitors. Members of the diaspora, especially those living in the United States, who were once welcomed to Jamaica with open arms, say that they have experienced scorn from locals.
When the borders reopened to international travel in June, many residents initially complained that the tourists would be the ones to case a spike on the island. But ironically, the tourists, who for the most part have stayed in hotels in the outline tourist zone, have received warm welcomes from those in the industry. It has been the returning residents- Jamaicans who live abroad and travel frequently to the island, that have been scorned.
N. Smith, a returning resident in her 50s, told CNW Network that even though her quarantine period has ended, she has stayed away from mingling since getting unwelcoming looks at a community grocery store.
Smith, who returned to the island in early August from New York, said that: “I stayed in quarantine for the 14 days and even after that, I only went to the grocery store. I would usually go to church whenever I visit, but people in my community (a residential area in Kingston) know that I just came back and have already been giving unwelcoming looks and deliberately avoid touching me.”
The scorn and mass panic is as a result of the drastic rise in cases over the last month. Jamaica’s cases are now over 2,500 up from 800 at the beginning of August.
Over the last few weeks, the island’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, has encouraged citizens to report people who have returned to the island and are not complying with the quarantine orders. As the cases have gone up, so have the number of reports.
Even on social media, Jamaicans have been making reports to Dr. Chris Tufton, the Minister of health and wellness. Recently, one resident even reported her sister, a returning resident, to the minister via Twitter.
The wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness and East Rural St Andrew Member of Parliament Juliet Holness also encouraged the behavior of Jamaicans towards those who were not following the rules. “If you realise that they should be quarantined and they are up and about, make the report. I would want to encourage Jamaicans, when people come from overseas, scorn dem if necessary,” she said.
As a consequence of the second wave, those who have followed the rules have had to suffer for those who haven’t.
Dr. Tufton has reiterated several times that the island needs to now learn how to “live with COVID”, as the virus has now become part of every day life. But until the “new normal” begins to be practiced throughout the region, fear, ignorance and panic will still exist.