Some Caribbean nations appear to be managing the COVID-19 pandemic relatively efficiently, but despite unnecessary confinements, curfews, and the closure of businesses, Jamaica has not fared as well.
In mid-April, the detection of more than a hundred positive cases in a care center in Portmore, in the parish of Santa Catalina, seriously triggered the country's figures and precipitated the Government's announcement of even stricter security regulations, including the closure of service centers throughout the island.
A key feature of the closure of the Santa Catalina parish was that citizens would only be allowed to shop twice a week: Wednesday and Saturday. On both days, people would be given a fixed schedule and allowed to enter stores based on their last name.
Furthermore, it is also required wear face masks in public and reduce hours of operation from essential stores at 8 in the morning and at 4 in the afternoon. Meanwhile, nonessential businesses were encouraged to have their workers work from home.
Although rigorous, these latest preventive measures are an attempt to curb the spread of the virus in the community, but what happened in the first two days of shopping – April 15 and 18 – was chaotic. Any attempt to apply the guidelines of social distancing was nullified by the overcrowding of the markets.
Several crucial structures were missing in these shopping areas, such as the adequate allocation of positions that would have allowed social distancing between vendors, and the absence of signs on the ground or barricades to promote safety in queues.
This approach contrasts sharply with that of other countries, which are trying to abandon large centralized markets, and to disperse smaller shopping venues in cities to reduce overcrowding. It was also recommended to open these stores five times a week to further reduce the concentration of people.
In recognition of its failure on this matter, the Government of Jamaica subsequently added two additional shopping days per week and eliminated the system of purchasing by last name, which contributed to reducing crowds in some areas but not in all.
The reaction of social media users to the overcrowding incident was mixed. A Facebook user suggested that the most reasonable way to ensure adequate social distancing was through the presence of law enforcement.
Another made several suggestions:
Create more community market spaces and limit and register the amount of people who sell there. More banks can set up transfer of remittances so people don't need to crowd. Reduce some of the redtape and unnecessary paperwork and show people how to. The problem is some things were designed for a certain socioeconomic group. Its time we do away with those things and level the playing field.
Create more community market spaces and limit and register the number of people who sell there. More banks can set up remittance transfers so people don't crowd. Reduce some of the unnecessary red tape and paperwork and show people how to do it. The problem is that some things were designed for a certain socioeconomic group. It is time to remove those things and equalize the conditions.
Many users pointed to the reckless disregard of social distancing measures because those who refused to comply were not only putting themselves at risk, but others as well.
In response to extensive criticism of overcrowding, Michelle Michelle recommended on Facebook that empathy be exercised in judging the situation:
What you guys fail to understand is that not everyone has enough money to stock up on food as they'd like. Also there are persons that rely on vending for a living. I know social distance is highly recommended, but how do you do that when you have a family to feed? Most people commenting are living overseas, so it may be a little easier for us to get groceries than the average Jamaican. Show some empathy.
What you don't understand is that not everyone has enough money to stock up on food as they would like. There are also people who depend on the sale to live. I know that social distancing is strongly recommended, but what would you do if you have a family to feed? The majority who are commenting live abroad, so it may be a little easier for us to get food than the average Jamaican. Show a little empathy.
Jamaica, with just over 2.9 million inhabitants, is reportedly the fourth most populous Caribbean territory. Consequently, citizens are used to being quite close to others in social situations, including local markets.
Social distancing, a concept that was imposed on the world population by the pandemic, is a behavior that Jamaicans will simply have to adjust to if they want to stop the spread of COVID-19.