Private sector groups urge Gov't to get tough but avoid lockdown as cases rise

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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AMID concern over an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, private sector groups say a lockdown of the economy is unnecessary at this time, but urged the State to get tough with those who breach safety protocols.

Additionally, Helene Davis Whyte, one of the country's foremost trade unionists, is arguing that the Government does not need to delay calling the expected general election which Prime Minister Andrew Holness is expected to announce today.

The views were advanced at a virtual press conference convened yesterday by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), with participation from other stakeholder groups.

Keith Duncan, PSOJ president, is of the view that rather than lock down the economy, the Government should continue its surgical approach of stringent monitoring and quarantining communities where the threat of spread is detected.

“With the tools that we have built, and with the recruitment of over 1,300 community public health aides and the approaches that we have taken in terms of quarantining areas where we see cases emerging, I think that's an approach we would rather see. Once we can keep those numbers down, then we do not have to move to the phase of further restrictions,” Duncan said.

“I do not believe that at this point in time a lockdown is at all necessary. We are recommending that we be very proactive, continue with the surgical approach that the ministry [of health and wellness] and the Government are employing to ensure that we remain in the control stage,” he stated.

On Sunday, the health and wellness ministry reported 20 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 1,023 since March 10 when the first positive case was recorded.

Of the total number of cases, 745 patients have recovered, giving the island a 72.8 per cent recovery rate. Fourteen patients have died.

The ministry also said there are no critically ill patients now and 58 cases have returned to their countries of origin.

Yesterday, Duncan's position was supported by Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Distant who argued that a lockdown, though unwanted, is not out of the question, as the COVID-19 numbers inch dangerously close to necessitating the return of restrictions which were in place prior to the reopening of the country's borders and economy.

“We are urging the Government of Jamaica to be resolute in applying sanctions such as prosecution and fines, temporary closure, and even temporary shutdown of individual businesses, business places, and to individuals who are noncompliant. Enforcement is critical to maintaining adherence to these policies,” he insisted.

“With the growth we have seen in the economic sector we just cannot afford to slip back now,” Distant said.

“We would not like to see this adverse effect on the gains we have begun to eke out over the last six to eight weeks. If the rate of growth of hospitalisations continue, this trend will undoubtedly result in the need to revert to the increased constrictions,” he said.

Duncan stressed that the country is at a critical juncture in the management of the crisis and that all Jamaicans must take personal responsibility in managing the risk factors associated with the spread of the virus.

He said the country has done well so far with risk-based approaches, and the economy has in fact seen an uptick across some industries, which points to some levels of economic recovery.

However, he pointed to the threat now posed by the increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

The Government has attributed the vast majority of new cases to the influx of returning Jamaicans from other territories, particularly North America.

Amidst the caution against eroding economic gains and the imminent announcement of a general election, the PSOJ is also urging the political parties to adhere to Ministry of Health guidelines as they engage in campaign activities.

“We have to be proactive and aggressive in taking measures and collective and individual responsibility to ensure that we remain in the control stage and do not jeopardise the recent gains to our economy and our record of managing the pandemic and keeping our country safe,” he said.

Davis Whyte, who heads the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, agreed, saying that both political parties must faithfully observe safety protocols and be held accountable by the electorate to uphold that responsibility.

She said election campaigning and its related activities present an added threat to the ability to stick to the measures that have been implemented to stave off the spread of the virus.

“What will determine whether these elections can go on or not is whether we adhere to the protocols, whether we adhere to that risk-based approach,” Davis Whyte stated.

She pointed out that, based on the increasing number of hospitalisations from COVID-19, the country is precariously close to reverting to the stage of Government-imposed restrictions, but that this can be averted.

“I believe that if we, as Jamaicans, recognise and accept that COVID is still here and that it is going nowhere, and therefore we need to continue to adhere to all the good practices that we have become accustomed to in the period before the economy was reopened, then I think we can go ahead with almost all of our normal activities,” Davis Whyte asserted.

She said the country is at the stage where Jamaicans can “haul and pull up” and return to good safety practices, which have attracted international attention.

“Make no ghost fool you, we are where we are because a lot of us had interpreted the lifting of the restrictions as COVID is over and gone and we can do whatever we want to do. If we are able to get back to where we were, we should be able to hold our elections and if our politicians and their followers adhere to the protocols and guidelines which have been developed I believe we can come through it,” she said, pointing out that Caribbean neighbours Trinidad and Tobago went to the polls yesterday and reported most people observing the safety protocols and guidelines.

“It is not beyond us to do it; what we need to be is be very careful, very vigilant as citizens,” she said.

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