Compounding the economic and social struggles Jamaica faces, a serious new wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths is putting the island and its prime minister between a rock and a hard place.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first impacted Jamaica in March of 2020, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) administration were highly commended for effectively controlling infections and deaths. But despite their best efforts, the virus has persisted. And, as the government relaxed restrictions on its borders allowing international travel to salvage Jamaica’s multimillion tourism industry, the public grew tired of COVID-19 guidelines, essentially thwarting any effort to eradicate the virus.
In fact, the government was met with stubborn resistance from some Jamaicans who continued partying, beach-hopping, and generally shunning the mask mandate. Social media was flooded with posts of people jeering and criticizing Holness, accusing him of “trying to rob Jamaicans of their freedom.”
There seems to be a level of social indiscipline that threatens to buck the system when the community is called upon to do things collectively for the greater good. This is not unique to Jamaica. In fact, one needs to look no further than here in the U.S. where there has been a rampant disregard for COVID-19 guidelines and various groups of people aimed at thwarting any attempt to reduce COVID-19 infections and encourage vaccinations.
Jamaica has its own issues with vaccine hesitancy, and social media misinformation plays a significant role in creating an atmosphere of mistrust. To ensure the population reduces its COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, people have to be willing to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines and take the vaccines when they become available.
To Prime Minister Holness’ credit, despite the criticisms, and widescale indiscipline related to COVID restrictions, he persisted in attempts to curb the spread of the virus.
Recently he announced total lockdown curfews of the entire country for three weekends effective March 27 to April 12, including the usually hectic, celebratory Easter weekend from April 3 to 6. Coinciding with the weekend lockdown, the government, with agreement from the opposition People’s National Party (PNP), passed legislation imposing severe fines for flouting COVID restrictions, including not wearing masks, crowd gathering, and breaking curfew regulations.
Reports and social media images from Jamaica showed normally crowded streets and public venues devoid of traffic and people during last weekend’s curfews. It appears the Holness administration is finding some success in getting the public to adhere to the COVID restrictions, buoyed by the ‘teeth’ of the potential fines. The question, however, is what happens when the weekend lockdowns end?