(JAMAICA GLEANER) — Doris Fuller bore a distressed look as she pushed a supermarket cart through the chemical aisle at the Walmart Neighbourhood Market in Green Acres, West Palm Beach, Florida.
The aisles were empty. There was no toilet paper, sanitising wipes or other chemicals that could be used in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) disease which has taken thousands of lives worldwide.
There were no hand sanitisers or protective masks in stock either and bottled water left the store as fast as they were stocked on shelves and placed at convenient points in the store by staff.
“Are you OK, miss? Need some help finding something?” a concerned staffer asked the worried Fuller.
“No, me nuh alright. On Saturday I was supposed to fly home to Jamaica for a funeral but that has been postponed until further notice. I just got news that there are two confirmed cases of corona in Jamaica and I have been trying for days now to get some hand sanitisers, toilet paper and other supplies to ship back home but none is available,” the woman said.
The store staffer was also Jamaican.
“Me hear the news, too. I have a few days off next month and wanted to visit family and get some good vibes, but that can’t go on no more. It better me just stay here, as anywhere you go now you can contract that thing (COVID-19),” the female staff member shared.
Fuller’s anxiety mirrors that of many Jamaicans who, while yearning to be in the land of their birth and who have made plans to visit, have decided against it.
FEAR OF GOD
The Frenchmen set of parties has been a must-attend for Certified Nursing Assistant Charmaine Bowen for the last few years. The shindigs take place every year as part of the Jamaica Carnival celebrations and usually attract scores of revellers. However, the promoters, out of an abundance of caution, have decided to postpone all eight parties associated with the Frenchmen banner, as the coronavirus fear takes hold.
But that news was taken in stride by Brown, who was also shopping at the neighbourhood market.
“I will not be going this year. The virus thing is driving the fear of God in me and I think the promoters did the best thing by not keeping it this year. I had already bought my ticket months ago but that’s just how it is. We have to make the best decisions to protect ourselves and others,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
As Fuller and the Walmart staffer exchange words, two women had to be restrained by employees after coming close to blows over one attempting to hawk all the toilet paper that had just been ferried from the back of the store in a shopping cart and placed in an aisle.
“You are so damn selfish. There is only one trolley of tissue and you want all of it. Everyone needs to keep themselves free from infection. Not just you and your household. You should be thoughtful and share!” the red-faced Hispanic sounding woman shouted.
“I care zero about you or anyone else!” the other woman, a freckled faced, rotund Caucasian, snapped back.
This, despite signs being posted on the cart and along the now empty aisle that only two packs of toilet paper were being sold to each customer.
Similar situations played out at all Walmart stores in that section of West Palm Beach and also at other major retail outlets, including Target and Publix chains. There were limits on the amount of toilet tissue each customer could purchase. There were no hand sanitisers or sanitary wipes in sight at the stores The Sunday Gleaner visited.
MOOD OF HYSTERIA
Not only Jamaicans but most persons bore a worried look and were seen scurrying about in an attempt to get themselves prepared for the onslaught of COVID-19, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). So far, more than 145,000 infections and over 5,400 deaths had been recorded worldwide, since its discovery in the Wuhan Province of China in December last year.
Reports out of Broward County, where the majority of Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals are domiciled, reflected that of the mood of hysteria that has gripped West Palm Beach.
Checks on several websites reveal that airline ticket prices from the much traversed route between the Fort Lauderdale Airport in Hollywood, Florida, and the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica, have been slashed. Some tickets were going for lower than US$100 one way – a deal which would normally be snapped up.
A representative of Jet Blue Airlines, which transports hundreds of passengers between both countries, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said ticket sales had dipped.
“I cannot speak on these issues and I have no data to support it, but based on my years of experience, less people are flying that route,” the representative told The Sunday Gleaner.
A number of events geared at attracting patrons who consume Caribbean-oriented entertainment have also been cancelled in South Florida, including the annual fundraiser for the Wolmer’s Schools in Kingston, which is held in Broward County each year. On Thursday evening, notices were sent via various social media platforms of the cancellation.
A visit to a regular hang-out spot in Palm Beach, where Caribbean men usually gather on Thursday nights for a game of dominoes and an unwinding swig was unusually scanty.
“Them don’t turn out tonight. Them mussi fraid a corona,” a young female bartender mused.