Tue | Sep 29, 2020

COVID CRACKDOWN - Lobbies press Gov’t to get tough with sanctions

Published:Tuesday | August 11, 2020 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
Supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party in Clark’s Town, Trelawny, disregard the wearing of masks and the observance of six-foot distancing rules as they turned out to see Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who wrapped up his four-day tour of western Jamaica on Monday. Both JLP and People’s National Party officials have expressed concern about their ability to rein in exuberant supporters during political campaigning.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness hands a mask to a supporter in Water Square, Falmouth, on Monday. The Jamaica Labour Party leader rapped People’s National Party hecklers for seeking to hijack his motorcade through the Trelawny capital.

The business community is warning that the Government’s failure to enforce the COVID-19 laws governing beach parties and other entertainment events could cost the country dearly, reversing the economic gains achieved since the easing of austerity measures over the last two months.

The lobbies’ call to action early Monday added pressure to the Holness administration as Cabinet met to forge new measures to stave off a wave of coronavirus infections that, as at August 10, stood at 1,031 cases. The recent spike included a 59-case jump over 48 hours late last week.

Holness has reconvened the House of Representatives, which was on recess, to declare tougher sanctions on COVID-19 breaches. There is also anticipation that he will announce the date of the next general election, campaigning for which has raised alarm over the disregard for distancing and mask-wearing on the hustings.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU), and the Coalition of Women’s Groups pressed the Government on Monday to penalise specific operators who breached the Disaster Risk Management Act – the umbrella legislation governing coronavirus protocols – instead of a blanket shutdown that could cripple industries and haemorrhage jobs.

“We are urging the Government of Jamaica to be resolute in applying sanctions such as prosecutions and fines, temporary closure, and even the shutdown of individual businesses places and individuals who are non-compliant. Enforcement is critical in maintaining adherence to these policies and these policies are in place for the protection of all Jamaicans,” president of the JCC, Lloyd Distant, warned.

“If the rate of growth of hospitalisations continues, this trend will undoubtedly result in the need to revert to the increased restrictions to what is called the restrict stage, where we institute mandatory work-from-home requirements. The possibility of closing bars, restaurants and other similar facilities, reducing the number of persons gathering in groups, the tightening of curfew hours among other restrictions will all need to come back into play.”

Meanwhile, president of the PSOJ, Keith Duncan, while commending the Government for its risk-based approach in managing the public-health challenges that guided the phased opening of the economy, said that the economic gains were now being outpaced by the COVID-19 infection rates.

The uptick in economic activity over the past two months was reflected in manufacturing, construction and hardware sales, Duncan said. That return to fortune also included the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, which was hammered by a superspreading surge at the Alorica call centre in Portmore and which activated a lockdown of BPO plants and the quarantining of St Catherine.

The reopening of the country’s borders to tourists in mid-June has also spelt a muted recovery for the hotel sector, Duncan said.

“Some hotels are seeing occupancy levels of 10-35 per cent … . However, the opening of borders and the economy ... has brought some attendant risks, which anticipated an increase in both imported and domestic (COVID) cases.

“Jamaica is in a precarious position in that we have seen now 95 new cases in the past four days, an increase of active cases to 206 and 51 hospitalisations,” said the PSOJ president.

“With the influx of returning Jamaicans, we have seen that we have over 20,000 individuals in quarantine,” he added.

Active cases have since risen to 213 but hospitalisation numbers have fallen to 49.

President of the JCTU, Helene Davis-Whyte, blamed the upsurge in cases on indiscipline among Jamaicans who were flagrantly breaching health and social-distancing rules.

Regaining lost ground will require the leaders of the major political parties to be innovative in their election campaigns and commit to compliance of COVID-19 protocols, said Davis-Whyte.

“The regular style of campaigning is not going to be possible. Mass meetings will not be possible. So they will have to be very responsible in terms of campaigning activities, ensuring that physical distancing ... ,” the trade unionist said.