Christmas is the most anticipated time of the year. It’s our Jamaican tradition to clean up, spruce up, and decorate our homes and communities, sometimes with a fresh coat of paint and some pepper light. There is an increased buzz of activities, peaking in Grand Market; signaling the preparation for families coming together, gifts, good cheer, good food, merriment for some and quietude for others.
I believe we all know that it will not be Christmas as usual. Though we are happy at the signs of recovery so far and optimistic that it will continue to be robust and sharp, there are many Jamaicans who have not yet recovered livelihoods or income. The disruption in global supply chains has negatively impacted the cost of living, both in the availability and price of goods.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has altered our way of life, attenuating our movements, gatherings and interactions. It has impacted everyone in some way, whether it is:
- the pan chicken person who saw significant dips in their revenue,
- the river rafting operator or the hotel worker who saw their earnings dry up almost overnight when the travel and tourism industry initially faced a global shutdown,
- the frontline workers who have had to work long hours under difficult circumstances to keep our people safe and our health sector from collapsing,
- Our children who have been out of school for almost two years,
- the entertainment sector which has not been permitted to have events and parties,
- the small business operator whose business has had to downsize or close,
- Jamaicans are suffering from bouts of depression, and anxiety brought on by the unprecedented disruption in our socialization routines.
Everyone has, in some way, been affected by the pandemic and I understand and indeed empathize deeply with every single Jamaican who has suffered as a result of the pandemic, particularly those who have lost loved ones.
As a Government we were able to quickly respond with support for the most vulnerable in our society and for persons whose income were affected by the fall out in the economy. This government mobilized unprecedented resources in social protection programmes for the poor, protected public sector jobs and cushioned the impact for private-sector workers with income loss support. Never before has any Government of Jamaica responded in such a comprehensive and equitable way to any disaster. Given the magnitude of the crisis, we can never feel that our response touched every Jamaican in need. We know that we must continue to provide support and reach out to all who are without at this time. That’s why, even at the last sitting of Parliament a few days ago, we announced support to assist some of our most needy households with food as we know and understand the impact of the increased food prices on your family.
Nevertheless, while the material aspect of the season may be lacking, we must never let that distract from the true spirit of thanksgiving for the birth of the Saviour of mankind.
With God’s guidance and blessings, Jamaica is presently in a fair position with respect to the control and containment of the virus, but as we have seen, that can change in an instant, the very moment we drop our guard. Already, the new variant is spreading rapidly in countries with whom we have close travel links, and several have imposed lockdowns and tighter measures.
I thank all Jamaicans who have acted responsibly throughout the pandemic, abiding by the protocols, and getting vaccinated. And I want to encourage my brothers and sisters who have been less adherent to the protocols or reluctant about vaccination, to consider their positions carefully.
As we move into the endemic phase of the Pandemic, meaning as we learn to live with the virus, its variants, and the disease, 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. This Christmas as you move about, gather, socialize and celebrate, please, I urge you to do so responsibly, including driving slower and with greater care on our roads.
So against the backdrop of the Pandemic and the economic and social disruption it has caused, and our own personal struggles and worries, let us take some time to reflect on the true meaning of the season; the hope that the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour represented for the people of Israel who were also distressed at that time.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us, a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”. This is the assurance He gives. Let us, therefore, in this time of great uncertainty and distress, renew our personal faith in God and get in touch with our spirituality. This Christmas, let’s rekindle our familial and community bonds, care for each other no matter the circumstances, little or plenty, sickness or health, let the light of hope, faith and love emanate from our hearts, through our homes and into our communities.
From Juliet, Adam and Matthew, from my family to yours, have a safe, peaceful, joyous, and socially responsible Christmas.
Merry Christmas Jamaica!