Senior staff reporter

Saturday, March 14, 2020

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WITH Jamaica having eight cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Government has quarantined the communities of Seven and Eight Miles in Bull Bay, St Andrew, in an effort to stop what is now effectively a local spread of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

The police and military have been deployed to the area to support other state agencies.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness made the announcement last evening at a press conference at Jamaica House.

According to Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, more than 30 people have had contact with the first patient who was confirmed on March 9 with the virus.

“A lot more households than the ones we have interviewed have been affected. It is, therefore, important for us to try to restrict the movement of persons to prevent further spread,” she explained.

Prime Minister Holness, meanwhile, has issued a Disaster Risk Management Declaration Order, and a Disaster Area Declaration for the entire country, under the Disaster Risk Management Act of 2015, as the Government tries to contain the virus.

He said Bull Bay was not being treated with curfew conditions. “This is for their own benefit as well as for the rest of Jamaica's benefit,” he told reporters.

He emphasised that the Government had taken care to ensure that its actions are supported by law, in order to protect the citizenry.

“Though there is a crisis there is no breakdown in law and order in the functioning of the State. There will be life after COVID-19 and people may want to utilise the judicial system, and therefore are making sure whatever we do is well within the bounds of the law. It doesn't mean this is the end of days; a State must be able to use its laws and its bureaucracy to respond to challenges,” the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton said the additional six cases confirmed early yesterday morning stemmed from a trace of people the first two COVID-19 patients came in contact with.

Following a risk assessment, some were placed under house quarantine, and others quarantined in facilities and monitored.

Dr Tufton said it has been determined that there has been some amount of community exposure which was enough to raise the risk level to potential community transmission as people have been showing signs of illness or of becoming ill.

“We needed to contain the spread within that vicinity and hence the decision to quarantine the community, because we felt it was substantial enough,” he stressed.

The police and the army have been enlisted to assist, along with other agencies, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has warned against persons giving misleading information, or hiding information, thereby putting others at risk. She also pointed out that under various pieces of legislation related to public health, the authorities are empowered to enter private premises without a warrant. She urged all Jamaicans to cooperate for the health and safety of all.

Dr Tufton outlined that the security forces and other agencies will work with the communities to minimise movement outside of the area.

“In the meantime, we would assess to determine the extent of the spread of the virus, and apply appropriate levels of treatment to the individuals,” Dr Tufton explained.

Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Rocky Meade said troops were already deployed to the community, adding that the operation would look similar to a state of public emergency or zones of special operation, and will be managing intersections and access points to the communities.

“The difference is we are not doing it like a security operation where we would do checks and allow people to proceed; in this case we will be seeking to restrict movement in and outside the community,” he explained.

The army chief noted that in situations where persons have legitimate reasons to move in and out, appropriate records and documentation will be kept on these individuals, as he urged residents to cooperate.

Meanwhile, Dr Bisasor-McKenzie said the aim over the next 14 days is to educate all the affected persons on what is happening to them, what to expect and how to prevent the situation from escalating, and from affecting loved ones.

“We think the is the best way to go,”, she stressed, noting that the hope is to limit further infection spread within 14 days.

Prime Minister Holness said the entire Government, civil society, and non-governmental organisations are mobilised and that this will become more intense as the situation progresses.

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