Friday 23 October, 2020

Postcard from the Edge: UTech student fighting boredom in Bull Bay

Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldiers talk to residents in a section of Seven Miles in Bull Bay, St Andrew on Saturday. Residents of Seven Miles and neighbouring Eight Miles are under a state-mandated quarantine to restrict the spread of COVID-19.  (Photos: Marlon Reid)

Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldiers talk to residents in a section of Seven Miles in Bull Bay, St Andrew on Saturday. Residents of Seven Miles and neighbouring Eight Miles are under a state-mandated quarantine to restrict the spread of COVID-19. (Photos: Marlon Reid)

Although it has only been a few days, 21-year-old university student, Samantha Bailey*, is already feeling the first telling signs of 'cabin fever'. She is bored and restless. Even social media has become a bit of a drag.

Welcome to her world: day five of a state-mandated community quarantine.

Samantha has been sequestered with her brother and mother in a house in Eight Miles, Bull Bay, St Thomas since last Friday, when members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) swooped down to restrict movements into and out of the Seven Miles and Eight Miles communities in Bull Bay in response to the threat of the spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

"It's been very quiet since Friday evening when we were first told by town criers to stay indoors and avoid physical contact with our neighbours. I haven't been outside (the home) since Friday night. It feels kinda weird, but I am trying to adjust, I go outside (in the yard) often for little walks, and try to stay active," she said.

Bull Bay is an area located on the southeast coast of Jamaica, seven to 11 miles to the east of Kingston on the border between St Andrew and St Thomas.

Bailey said residents of neighbouring Seven Miles are reportedly feeling the brunt of the quarantine restrictions. The area has been cut off by barricades and its residents are said to be suffering the quiet indignity of being scanned with temperature guns by JDF troops.

Social workers prepare to deliver food items to residents of Seven Miles.

"Seven Miles has it worse than us because that is where the barricades are because that was where patient zero (now patient one, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on the island) was staying. I have a friend who lives very close to Seven Miles and her avenue is blocked off, she has been stuck since Saturday. The whole thing was very abrupt, people were scrambling to get to the supermarket to get supplies, as they didn't know it was happening," said Bailey.

According to her, there are other quiet indignities for residents to navigate in this 'new normal' circumstance.

"I have even heard stories that when people from Seven Miles send others to get food for them, that person has to leave the food on the ground for the quarantined person to collect... on the ground. It's wild," exclaimed Bailey.

There are 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica, including ‘patient zero’ - now dubbed patient one - who spent time in the Seven Miles area of the Bull Bay communities. Jamaica's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, disclosed on Friday that over 30 residents of Seven Miles and Eight Miles had direct and “pretty close contact with our index (first) case” for the coronavirus (Covid-19).

The index case refers to the first person who tested positive for the virus in Jamaica. That individual, a woman, travelled to Jamaica from the United Kingdom on March 4 to attend a funeral. She visited several parishes between that time and when she fell ill on March 9. Her positive result was confirmed on March 10.

“Of those 30 persons (at Bull Bay), we have about eight persons who are symptomatic right now. We consider that to be enough reason to be concerned. We realise that persons tend to move around; we realise that a lot more households than the households that we have interviewed were affected, and so therefore the community itself is concerned,” Bisasor-McKenzie told the press last week.

Ministry of Labour and Social Security employees at a checkpoint outside Seven Miles in Bull Bay.

Still, even though the quarantine exercise is geared towards ensuring the safety and health of the residents, some are bristling at the new restrictive rules.

"A town crier goes around and reminds us to stay indoors and yesterday they advised us to call if we need medication and such. So far everyone is trying to stay inside, but speaking to people on their phones, they are growing tired of this arrangement, even if it is for our safety, people just don't want to be controlled," said Bailey.

But Jamaicans have little choice in the matter generally, as the global pandemic threatens the lives of people worldwide. Major cities have been shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed over 7,000 people globally.

A gregarious and bubbly young woman, Bailey said she is trying to get used to the idea of 'social distancing' and having words like 'self-quarantine' added to her vocabulary. But the reality is that the raging fear generated by the coronavirus has changed the dynamics of social interactions.

For instance, there are sharper, more suspicious looks directed towards innocent coughs or phlegmy throat-clearing. Every sneeze now seems to carry with it the threat of contagion.

"I am close with most of my neighbours, some of them are relatives and family, so this idea that anyone can infect you makes you look at people differently," said Bailey.

The student, reading for a degree in communication, arts and technology at the University of Technology (UTech), is looking forward to the day when the quarantine is finally lifted.

"Right now, I am not even sure how my job will be affected, because I am a freelance worker, so if I am not able to physically go to work, that means I cannot earn. And since classes were suspended, I have only heard from one lecturer who sent information via Google classrooms, so I am kinda bored out of my skull. Everything just lock down," she said with a note of frustration clearly creeping into her voice.

After all, there are only so many games of Ludo, Monopoly and dominoes one can play before one just goes quietly... berserk.

Sigh.

*Name changed on request.

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