Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness last evening put the country on high alert, announcing a slew of forceful measures expected to reduce the impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the population, with predictions of a surge in community transmission in the coming weeks.

Addressing journalists at a press conference at Jamaica House in St Andrew, Holness noted that the country was “rapidly approaching” the fourth phase of the pandemic, in which the virus spreads but the source of infection is unknown or cannot be directly traced back to a known exposure.

“Usually, this is the period of time where you see an escalation in the number of cases, infections tested, and those clinically profiled.

It is also the period of time when you might see increased panic in the population as the cases continue to rise, and we are making that estimation from the surveillance that the health team has conducted, but also from looking at what is happening regionally — that you're seeing countries' numbers rapidly moving. So, we are preparing the Jamaican people for that.

“So far, we have managed it fairly well and I don't want a sense of complacency to set in. From the measures that we have put in place already, we are seeing persons not taking them seriously. We see people flouting the rules. We ask that bars and certain establishments be closed and people are still opening. We ask for social distancing; people are still neglecting that, believing that this will pass over us,” the prime minister pointed out.

As a result, Holness said measures are being implemented to enforce on gatherings and to protect people most vulnerable to the disease. These actions, he said, will have implications for the continuation of normal life.

Effective March 25, the prime minister announced, individuals 75 years and older must remain at home, subject to exemptions that are to be specified. This will be applicable for 14 days.

He pointed to established studies done around COVID-19, which suggest that the group most affected by the disease is seniors, 65 years and older.

“They will be allowed to conduct the essentials of life, but under certain restrictions, and those will be made known when the order is promulgated and that will be done by tomorrow (today)... I'm urging all Jamaicans to observe this. I'm not making it a recommendation; this is not moral suasion. We have placed it in the order covered by the Disaster [Risk] Management Act. So there are penalties that can be put in place and enforcement can be done,” he stated, stressing that this is not a move to isolate seniors.

Additionally, all public sector workers 65 years and older are to work from home, subject to specified exemptions, he said. This, too, takes effect on Wednesday.

Schools, which were ordered closed on March 13, Holness said, are to remain closed until the end of the Easter term, following which, Cabinet is expected to assess the status of the outbreak and advise of an extension, if necessary.

The prime minister also announced a 14-day extension of quarantine for individuals who arrived in the island recently.

“Every person who entered Jamaica as at the 18th of March, 2020 must be quarantined for a further 14 days after the initial seven days expand. That is a critical one because there are many persons coming into Jamaica, some of them don't know that they have the virus, some of them are moving around, and what we have detected is that there is a significant number who do not want to follow the quarantine rules and they put the entire population at jeopardy,” Holness said, describing people's opposition to “self-quarantine” as “worrisome”.  

To curtail this, he informed that random checks will be made using the flight manifest, and individuals found in breach will be punished.

Public gatherings, which were previously limited to 20 people, have been further reduced to 10, and this becomes effective on Wednesday. The order is expected to remain in place for 14 days.

“As we are moving into the community transmission phase we have to cut the numbers that gather, and so now we are at 10; other countries are down to five and two. We're still doing this balancing act of trying to keep the economy going and keep economic activity, because we recognise that if the economy goes, the very thing you're trying to address, you won't be able to address, and if you don't address the epidemic then your economy goes. This will be enforced strictly,” he insisted.

In the meantime, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton disclosed that Jamaica now has 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up for 19.
Of the 21, 14 are imported cases, six import-related (people who contracted the virus from imported cases and were traced), and one that is still under investigation.

The additional cases include a 61-year-old from Manchester with a travel history that includes Florida, Dubai, Tanzania, and Egypt, and a 51-year-old male with chronic illness from Westmoreland. The latter, Tufton said, was identified through contact tracing.

Fifty-one people are isolated in Government facilities.