Tue | Sep 29, 2020

NO MORE MR NICE GUY - PM threatens tougher protocols amid 30-case COVID one-day jump

Published:Friday | August 7, 2020 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
A soldier monitors motorists at one of several checkpoints erected in Sandy Bay, Clarendon, on Thursday, August 6. A 14-day quarantine has been imposed on the central Jamaica community following several COVID-19 cases linked to the Mount Zion Victory House of Prayer church.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has hinted that the time for moral suasion has come to an end.
A Jamaica Red Cross official and policemen discuss logistics as they prepare to distribute supplies to residents in Sandy Bay on Thursday.
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Amber lights are going off in the Government.

The warnings were serious enough to force a meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday to respond to a jaw-dropping 30-case spike in COVID-19 infections within a 24-hour span in Jamaica.

Fearing that the early alarm could be the tip of the iceberg, the surge is set to trigger tighter restrictions even as Prime Minister Andrew Holness has ditched moral suasion to get compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

It is one of Jamaica’s largest single-day spikes since the pandemic broke, signalling worry for the administration as it seeks to keep the economy open as a recession looms amid the possibility of a second wave of the virus causing further crisis. A looming election, tantalisingly teased by the prime minister, also complicates the equation.

The total number of cases in Jamaica has now reached 958.

There are 149 active cases under observation, including seven moderately ill persons.

Holness has blamed the emerging crisis on “a few” who he labelled as “weak fences” for the dilemma facing the Government.

“We have spent a lot of time and effort and resources on moral suasion asking you, the citizens, appealing to your good conscience and your reasonableness, to observe the protocols. With what is happening now, I think we are at the limit with moral suasion,” Holness declared late night, interrupting Independence Day celebrations.

“My own view is that we have the majority of Jamaicans who are reasonable and who try their best to comply, but we have some weak fences, some people who believe they have some special immunity to the disease ... . What they have done is to put others at risk,” the prime minister said.

PASTOR IMPLICATED

Holness disclosed in a Jamaica House press conference that a pastor has been implicated for breaching the Disaster Risk Management Act, alleging that the cleric recently flew in to the island and officiated services with no restrictions.

According to the prime minister, a majority of the emerging cases have been linked to the pastor.

“The churches, in general, have, by and large, supervised themselves, and many of them have put in place measures over and above what we have put in the Disaster Risk Management Act,” he said.

The prime minister further noted that the statistical trend line is heading towards a threshold that could cause a lockdown of the country’s borders and the economy and has called for the prosecution of those flouting coronavirus laws.

“I am certainly convinced in my mind that the only way we are going to be able to confront this disease, keep our economy going, ensure that we can recover from this recession, and remain healthy is to prosecute those who deliberately go out of their way to ignore the law and place all of us at risk,” Holness said, contending that the Government has, before now, been reluctant to charge offenders.

Consequent on the heightened fears surrounding the 30-case spike, the Government has decided to prohibit conferences and conventions for churches.

The entertainment sector is expected to be affected by new orders in the wake of news last week that approximately 700 events occurred without the required permits and state oversight.

Holness called on entertainers to use their influence to appeal to patrons to abide by the coronavirus protocols if they want the industry to remain afloat.

“We ask you to understand that we can’t put the entire country at risk. If we allow entertainment to emerge, then we expect that you must be responsible,” he said.

Attendance at beaches and rivers is also expected to be affected by the new orders.

The extent of the tighter restrictions will be fully revealed between Friday and Tuesday, when the Parliament is reconvened, Holness said on Thursday evening.

COMMUNITY QUARANTINED

Moments before the Jamaica House presser commenced, news trickled in that the security forces were moving in to set up checkpoints. Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton confirmed that Church Corner, a St Thomas community, has been placed under quarantine.

Earlier Thursday, a quarantine was also imposed in Sandy Bay, Clarendon. He said the quarantine would last for 14 days.

The area of interest spans approximately 0.9 square kilometres and is bound by a 4.3-kilometre perimeter.

Sixteen positive cases have been identified in St Thomas recently, notably from Bamboo River and Church Corner.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com