Devon House ordered closed

Devon House ordered closed

Tenant accused of breaching COVID-19 safety protocols

Staff reporter

Monday, July 06, 2020

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AS of today, Jamaicans and tourists will not be able to visit the popular Devon House attraction on Hope Road in St Andrew, as it has been ordered closed by the Government until the State is satisfied that the entity is fully compliant with safety measures to protect patrons from COVID-19.

The order was made by Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie, after videos showing scores of partygoers flouting COVID-19 restrictions at Devon House went viral on social media over the weekend.

“Devon House, which is a very important entity in the country, has been operating outside of the protocols that have been outlined by the Government in regards to its operation,” the minister said at a press briefing yesterday morning. “The Reggae Mill [restaurant and bar], based on information that we have gathered, has been operating for almost five weeks, every weekend, with numerous parties, with hundreds of persons not observing the social distance. It is clear that there is little appreciation for the rules that have been laid out.”

Added McKenzie: “Therefore, Devon House, officially, will have to close its doors until we are satisfied that they have complied fully with the protocols that are set out by the Government as it relates to social distancing.”

In a release condemning the parties on Saturday night, the minister gave the management of Devon House 48 hours to provide an official response, which, up to the time the venue was ordered closed, they had not.

“I am insisting on a formal explanation within 48 hours,” the release said. “I am also insisting that no events can be contemplated or allowed by Devon House, or any entity anywhere, until whenever the Disaster Risk Management Order is amended to allow them.

“The protocols and restrictions issued under the Order apply to the whole society. There are no uptown rules or downtown rules. The violators in this matter will be held to account,” he added.

However, in a statement posted on the Instagram page of Reggae Mill Bar — the tenant at Devon House that hosts the weekly 'Fridays at the Devon' party series — the business maintained that it was not operating in violation of the law.

“It has come to our attention that certain individuals have mistakenly referred to our Friday Happy Hour as Fridays at the Devon, which was held at our location pre-COVID-19,” the statement said. “Our happy hour is available every day from 4-8 pm. On Fridays it caters more to an after-work crowd, and it is extended up until 10:00 pm, an hour before curfew.

“We are observing all regulations and protocols in terms of sanitising, temperature taking and capacity limits. All persons must arrive and enter wearing a mask. Once inside it is their choice of removing the masks, as they must drink and eat,” the statement continued.

It went on to say that the entity was “currently in talks with all appropriate authorities”, specifically the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation and the mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams.

Meanwhile, in a response to the incident posted on Twitter, Mayor Williams clarified that his municipality has not given permission for any events to be held since March.

“We have not issued any permit since March 2020,” he tweeted. “We also monitor events that we issue permits to. The monitoring of noise is not the remit of the local authority. There are over 300 places across the city with annual permits/applications for amusement licences. While some may be more familiar to some persons, that is not the case for all.”

Minister McKenzie also issued a warning to gaming arcades and other places of entertainment that have been advertising their reopening.

“There is an arcade in Portmore, and they have been advertising that they are opening their doors this weekend to facilitate patrons, including children, for rides and other means of entertainment,” he pointed out. “I want to make it quite clear that there is no order that permits the operation of such an entity. Entertainment, as it stands, is still on the banned list of activities in the country.”

McKenzie also noted that other restaurants and bars are under investigation for operating as party and clubbing venues, and warned that violations could jeopardise the timed reopening of the entertainment sector.

“There are locations on Belmont Road, Old Hope Road, in Barbican, that are operating outside of the guidelines that have been set,” he said. “The commissioner of police has been provided with a list of all those entities that are operating in violation.”

He said he is in talks with stakeholders in the entertainment industry to assess how best to slowly reopen the sector, but violations such as these can muddy the waters.

“On Thursday we met with the entertainment sector here at the ministry to look at how we will deal with the possible reopening of the entertainment sector. We discussed at length what are the options that are available and we will continue these discussions,” McKenzie said.

“But under the present conditions it is clear that the Government will have to reconsider any considerations for the opening of the entertainment sector. What we are seeing is only courting danger, and we cannot afford as a country to lose the gains that we have made in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in Jamaica,” the minister said.

McKenzie confirmed to the Jamaica Observer that since the closure notice, he has spoken with the director of Devon House, Janette Taylor, and they have agreed to meet today to discuss the way forward.

“She is concerned too about developments there,” he said. “We had a lengthy discussion and the management has requested to meet with me tomorrow [today] to examine what has taken place and to see how best we can resolve the matter.”

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