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Cedric Stephens | Lackadaisical pandemic policy

I have never posted a comment on Twitter. This is even though I have had an account for many years. Despite this, I visit the platform daily, reading messages posted by others.

The situation may change, depending on Mr Elon Musk’s actions. News reports say he is in the process of buying it.

This is my first Twitter-inspired article, courtesy of former Senator and Jamaican High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Aloun Ndombet-Assamba. The 27-word posting, with an accompanying photograph, her face covered by dark glasses, an N95 mask, and a distinctive low-cut hairstyle, was about the wise actions she is taking to protect herself from COVID-19.

Her risk-mitigating strategy was on full display. Those actions are in contrast with what attorney-at-law and newspaper columnist Gordon Robinson called, last Tuesday, the country’s “open invitation to the BA.2 variant to enter and kill as many of our irresponsible population as it can”. I would have argued that the Government has recently adopted a laissez-faire policy towards the pandemic, two years after its arrival on the island.

What are the implications of the Government’s present strategy to businesses, in the private and public sectors, other entities and institutions – most of which do not practise risk management as part of their daily operations? Do they have plans to manage future outbreaks, with the removal of public health measures? Will they act responsibly? Only one locally owned company, to my knowledge, revealed that it had implemented its pandemic mitigation strategy in the early days of COVID-19.

The insurance industry – life and non-life – is in the business of managing risks. Has it considered what are the implications of the Government’s change in policy like Mr Robinson had? I have seen no guidance from its members that the risk management process is being used as a tool to reinforce the lessons that should have been learned when the pandemic was rampant. Unfortunately, I will have to rely on foreign sources for that information.

Risks related to the pandemic were among the most concerning macro business risks, according to a 2021 study conducted in the United States by Australian insurer QBE. The most surprising thing about the survey, which involved mid-sized companies – with average annual revenue of between US$10 million and US$1 billion – was that many of them did not have plans to manage future flare-ups of the virus. This was in an environment where two-thirds of the US population is fully vaccinated.

Jamaica is a newcomer to risk management. It is, therefore, safe to assume that most businesses, other organisations, and institutions, like mid-sized US companies, do not have plans to manage future outbreaks. World Health Organization reports that 23.1 per cent of the island’s population is fully vaccinated.

Research published last August showed that the probability of novel disease outbreaks will increase threefold over the next few decades and that there is a two per cent probability of a pandemic with a similar impact to COVID occurring in any year. Gabriel Katul, PhD, the Theodore S. Coile Distinguished Professor of Hydrology and Micrometeorology at Duke University and one of the authors of the study, said: “When a 100-year flood occurs today, one may erroneously presume that one can afford to wait another 100 years before experiencing another such event. This impression is false. One can get another 100-year flood in the next year.”

“It is imperative,” wrote two QBE North America executives, in the April 20, 2022, issue of Risk & Insurance, “that companies have business continuity plans and mitigation strategies in place when, not if, the next global health crisis occurs. Doing so can not only save the vitality of a business should an event occur, but it can also be a competitive advantage.”

The executives highlighted six areas that should be considered in the development of future pandemic mitigation plans: health and safety of employees; ensuring that customers and clients are healthy; cybersecurity related to remote work; supply chain issues; a pandemic could force changes to the business model; and maintaining the organisation’s physical locale.

If the probability of the occurrence of an event like COVID-19 is two per cent in any given year, shouldn’t the ‘freeing up’ be interpreted in that context and, more importantly, the planning for the next event to start now?

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: or

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