Here there be dragons…
By Ricky Browne
Just as the United Kingdom thinks it can start to see the beginning of the end of the pandemic, other countries are now entering their most dangerous period ever.
On Monday the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that there was now a roadmap to normality, starting with students going back to school on March 8. More than a third of the population has been vaccinated, and infection and death rates are finally plummeting.
The end result was a growing feeling of optimism, as people looked to brighter days ahead.
THE UK ROADMAP
On the 29th of March the country will go back to the rule of six, so that more people can socialise, with some sports opening up as well such as tennis and five a side football.
By April 12 shops will reopen as well as barbers, hairdressers and gyms as well as libraries and zoos and the outside spaces of pubs. Everyone in Britain will probably be looking forward to the Prime Minister getting a haircut on that day.
By May 17 some open air concerts will be allowed. 30 people can hang out outside. Movies will reopen. Weddings of up to 30 people will be allowed. And you’ll be able to stay over at someone’s house — and possibly travel abroad.
By July, maybe even earlier, life should be almost back to normal with people able to socialise to a much greater level and even be able to travel abroad. In fact, all legal limits on social contact would be removed on the first day of summer – June 21.
All these steps on the roadmap rely on the UK continuing to improve, and being able to minimise the effect of any new variants.
The United Kingdom has seen more than 120,000 deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic with more than 4.1 million confirmed cases. It still has the highest rate of deaths globally, with 1,779 deaths per million people – way ahead of Italy in second place with 1,583 deaths per million people.
But the UK was also the first country to start vaccinating its population in December 2020, first with the US -produced Pfizer vaccine and then with its own Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
But the Prime Minister said that there would be no such thing as a Covid-free future for either Britain or the world. Yearly booster shots, as is the case for the flu, look like they will be a permanent fixture in the future.
Even with its successful vaccination programme, the UK still has one of the highest rates of new cases, with about 10,000 people being infected per day. That puts it behind six other major countries, the US (70,000), Brazil (58,000), France (22,000), Italy (13,000) and Russia (13,000).
With some 18 million people now vaccinated in the UK, the results are finally showing improvements, allowing the government to outline how the country will emerge from lockdown.
Meanwhile, as things start to look better in Britain, other countries are entering their most dangerous phase ever.
JAMAICA FACES DRAGONS
A case in point is the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica, which up to now has had relatively low rates of infection and death – where you are still three times more likely to be murdered than you ae to die from the disease.
The country had 399 deaths as of February 23, with 21,679 cases according to statistics out of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Meanwhile more than 1200 people were murdered in 2020, a number that doesn’t perturb many Jamaicans, which could help to explain the lack of concern that some Jamaicans feel towards the pandemic death numbers.
But the country is now close to the end of its tether, with its health services stretched to the extreme.
“The reality is that we are in unprecedented times. The hospitals are at capacity and our health care workers are overwhelmed and fatigued,” tweeted Jamaica’s Minister of Health Dr Chris Tufton on February 22.
The country has been under curfew, and has rules about mask wearing and limited socialising. But much of the population can’t resist partying even in the face of death, even as hospitals are said to be turning people away.
The country, like many other developing countries with no access to vaccines, could be entering unchartered territory — facing the dragons of the unknown.
“Jamaicans, it simply cannot be business as usual, you must follow the protocols outlined and communicated CONSTANTLY by the government or risk losing your life.
“We met today to discuss and assess the situation and we will be converting more facilities into Covid wards however, this will mean that some services will become unavailable.
“Additionally, we will be recruiting more staff to aid in these operations but truthfully, if you continue to not wear your mask, not distance, not sanitise then these solutions won’t last long!” Tufton tweeted.
But while stating that it can’t be business as usual and pleading for the country to follow protocols, the minister was under fire for the government’s decision to allow a popular 5K city run to go ahead.
The Sigma 5K which normally has more than 25,000 participants running through the streets of uptown Kingston to raise money for charities – went ahead this year, but with less than 100 specially-invited runners.
It was the first sports event to be allowed by the government and had to follow strict protocols and get permission from several bodies. Some seven others are in the pipeline.
Tufton and Prime Minister Andrew Holness have run in previous Sigma 5Ks, so the event is a prestigious one. But people questioned how the government could allow such an event – pared down or not – at a time when the severity of the pandemic had heightened.
“If that’s the case why did y’all agree to have the Sigma run the other day? It seems to me that it’s a only when it pleases the government COVID rules apply,” tweeted ShadesofGenius in reply to Tufton’s tweet.
When it was pointed out that there were less than 100 runners, instead of the regular 25,000 she tweeted:
“How does that even justify approving such an even in a pandemic when there is a social gathering clause of 10 people or less??? Make it make sense? Like I said only when it benefits and pleases those in charge. Carry on non-the-less.”
So even the government seems to have fallen victim to the desire to have a good party, pandemic or no pandemic.
Jamaica, like many other developing countries, has no access to vaccines. It has actually budgeted to pay for enough vaccines to cover the vast majority of its population – but with a population of less than three million people it has been unable to buy any, while countries like the UK have made orders of more than 100 million vaccines, and will have more than they need.
The end result is that while the UK looks forward to having a fairly normal summer – it could end up just being a breather, as the disease could multiply in other countries, thereby threatening countries that have an effective vaccination campaign.
It’s a delicate balancing act, trying to vaccinate your own population, but also wanting to ensure that all other countries are also vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Three countries, Russia, China and India, are currently giving away their vaccines to developing countries – even though their populations are far from being vaccinated.
Other countries like the US, UK and countries in the EU, are looking to protect their own people first, before trying to keep or win soft power in the developing world.
The race to vaccinate the developing world will intensify after the developed world has taken care of its own. But by then some countries will have already benefitted from the charity of Russia, China and India – creating a new balance of soft power around the globe.