There are several versions of a truly devilish meme circulating on the Internet. It features faces in various degrees of shock. The text says, “When you realise 2022 is pronounced ‘2020 too.’” We certainly know now to tek bad tings mek joke. But this is taking a joke too far. None of us has the strength to repeat the trauma of 2020. We have to believe that things will get much better in 2022.
One of the most inspiring messages I’ve found so far this year comes from Lin Yutang, a Chinese linguist, philosopher, novelist, translator and inventor. Born into a Christian family, Yutang dismissed his early upbringing as a form of cultural imperialism that undermined traditional Chinese values. He grew to embrace Taoism and Buddhism. In later life, Yutang did return to his religious roots, largely inspired by his wife Liao who was a devout Christian.
Yutang defined hope in this way: “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” In this memorable affirmation, Yutang was acknowledging the power of collective action. He also seemed to recognise the fact that official roads designed by civil engineers don’t always follow the organic paths that are most convenient for the majority of us.
As we set off down the uncharted road of 2022, I’m hopeful that we can create new routes to a sustainable future. First of all, Jamaican roads, both urban and rural, are notoriously treacherous. New urban highways can be deadly for pedestrians. And potholes are a constant menace for motorists. We really have to invest in infrastructure that will enable easy movement all across the country. We cannot focus only on highways. We have to make country roads more accessible.
Then, we have to wean ourselves off our total dependence on tourism as the life-blood of our economy. As the pandemic rages, I was alarmed to hear tourism minister Ed Bartlett say, as reported in The Gleaner editorial for December 31, “Yes, we must be transparent. But we also must be mindful of how critical the stability and the balance that is required is, and that we’re walking a tightrope.” This balancing act seems to demand that we put tourism interests ahead of the health of the nation.
In Bartlett’s words, “I make the point that when we make certain comments, sometimes unintended consequences can be damaging, because you know if America hears tonight that Jamaica now has Omicron, that level could change.” So we should deny the fact that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is in the country in order to attract tourists? This is not a balancing act. It’s a plunge into lunacy. Ed Bartlett is so single-minded in his focus on tourism that he doesn’t appear to be thinking straight.
PATH TO LUNACY
Another path to lunacy we should not take in 2022 is the road to local government elections. At the Jamaica Labour Party conference last November, Andrew Holness declared, “It is a miserable time. It is not the time for politics.” I hope we can take him at his word. It seems as if the Government has learned its lesson after calling the general election in 2020. The spread of the virus certainly intensified during the election campaign.
Furthermore, the money that would be wasted on local government elections in the near future could be far better spent on helping the disadvantaged to cope with the fallout from the pandemic. There should be access to free or highly subsidised testing and to high-quality masks. So many people are suffering. They have no time to think about elections. Survival is all they care about. The turnout for local government elections would likely be even lower than the 37% for the last general election.
The misery of the times means that more than ever before we need hope. And we should expect the leadership of the country to provide this. But the prime minister made it quite clear in his Christmas message that the Government is reconsidering how it manages the COVID-19 crisis. This new hands-off strategy seems destined for failure:
“As we move into the endemic phase of the pandemic, meaning as we learn to live with the virus, its variants and the disease itself, the Government must rely less on general shielding measures such as curfews and work from home, and more on educating the population to adopt socially-responsible and proactive, health-seeking behaviours to protect themselves individually and collectively.”
RADICAL CHANGE OF STRATEGY
Public education about the COVID-19 pandemic has been quite inadequate. The Government needs a radical change of strategy if it is to stand any chance of persuading all citizens to engage in “proactive, health-seeking behaviours.” With all of the curfews, many irresponsible people kept on breaking the law. What are they going to do in the absence of any restrictions on movement?
Living with the virus cannot mean that we give up on protecting ourselves from its deadly consequences. The Government simply cannot depend on lawless people to behave in a socially responsible way. Protective measures must be kept in place to ensure that a large-scale attempt is made to curb the spread of COVID-19. We cannot allow Andrew Holness to lead us down the garden path. Hopefully, those of us who know better will walk together and bring a new road into existence.