No ‘ray-ray’ because of COVID-19 - MPs say pandemic will change how they campaign

August 10, 2020
Supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party and People’s National Party cheering for their respective candidates during Nomination Day 2016.
Supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party and People’s National Party cheering for their respective candidates during Nomination Day 2016.

Last week, Jamaica saw a sharp rise in positive COVID cases, with the number shooting past 1,000.

Communities in Clarendon and St Thomas also went into lockdown and the Government has promised stricter measures.

With a general election imminent, local politicians have highlighted the risks that surround them daily during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daryl Vaz, minister with responsibility for the water and housing portfolios, says COVID-19 has totally morphed what campaigning used to be.

"COVID-19 has definitely changed the way we operate campaigns and do our member of parliament (MP) duties. You have to go house to house ... we have to be responsible and realise that the usual crowds and the 'ray-ray' is no longer. I expect the election that will be called in short order to be a completely different type of politics and campaigning activities," he told THE STAR. Vaz, MP for West Portland, says he has made changes to how he carries out his duties.

"In terms of workers' meetings, instead of having one divisional meeting, you have to be breaking those meetings up in various clusters so that you observe the gathering protocols and make sure there is more social distancing. So, it is more time-consuming, but that is what we do for election preparation," he said.

But Dr Morais Guy, opposition spokesperson on health and wellness, says this may be a challenge. He told THE STAR that in their line of duty, politicians are confronted by countless people from all walks of life.

Control their enthusiasm

"As political representatives, people tend to come and hug us up and sometimes they are with or without masks. From that perspective, we are concerned. And sometimes we are unable to control their enthusiasm, but I think with more knowledge and more information, it has to become a way of life. Our people will have to adhere to the public-health measures," said Guy, MP for Central St Mary.

Opposition senator Damion Crawford says campaigning strategies by the People's National Party have been stalled.

"I am not running for a seat, but persons would have to campaign with less meetings. The national party would've had conferences at this particular time and those have to be cancelled," he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Horace Chang, Jamaica Labour Party general secretary and MP for North West St James, is using Cain's death as a teaching opportunity for Jamaicans who believe the pandemic is over.

He says adapting to the new normal is a must moving forward and campaigning.

"It is known that if you don't maintain all the protocols and you're over 70, the mortality is high. Not just for politicians, but all citizens. The older citizens should understand that they must maintain all the orders and protocols outlined, which is social distancing at all times, wearing a mask, and maintaining proper hygiene and sanitisation on a regular, steady basis," Chang said . Chang said Jamaicans cannot afford to relax.

" We have to get that across to everyone. For the younger ones, don't expose your grandmothers and grandfathers to the disease. To all my parliamentary colleagues, give your support to the Ministry of Health and reinforce the protocols, because we are doing so well and we cannot relax yet," he said.

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