Gov't won't bow
McKenzie says despite meeting with undertakers, two-week halt to funerals and burials remainsFriday, March 05, 2021
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
As undertakers and relatives of deceased people anticipate with dread the impending two-week ban on funerals and burials, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie has made clear that the Government is not inclined to bow to any pressure to allow the kind of large gatherings that have continued, regardless of the State-imposed restrictions.
The prohibition, which takes effect on Monday, is among the latest round of restrictions imposed by the Government under the Disaster Risk Management Act, as the country's number of COVID-19 infection cases spiral, leading to alarming increases in hospital admissions.
Addressing yesterday's meeting of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament, which is reviewing allocations for the 2021/22 budget, McKenzie advised that his ministry had met with undertakers this week, but must remain firm.
He pointed to Wednesday's shutdown of an unlawful gathering of over 200 people during a repast at a funeral home in downtown Kingston as an example of the disregard being shown for the safety protocols.
“The wrong signal was sent... so what it is telling you is that there is a kind of scant disregard for the process, and you cannot be encouraging actions like those,” he said.
“They [undertakers] put some suggestions on the table for the Government to consider [and] those will be taken back to the Cabinet for consideration, [but] while we appreciate that, if a Government bows to that kind of pressure the Government is going to lose its legitimacy and the Government cannot afford [that] under these circumstances, so we will look at what has been put on the table and take it under consideration,” he said.
McKenzie indicated that funeral directors will be held accountable for breaches of the gathering restrictions. Some undertakers have protested the ban, concerned that it could lead to a pile-up of bodies and added storage fees for relatives.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Monday said that the Government had been forced to take drastic action because citizens were not being responsible and compliant, sending the country plunging deeper into the COVID-19 crisis. Orders have been given to the municipal authorities that no burial orders should be issued until the prohibition is reviewed, but funerals already scheduled for up to Sunday, March 7 are allowed on the condition that they are compliant with the restrictions of having only 15 people, including the clergy, present.
The country recorded 341 cases of the viral illness over the 24 hours up to Wednesday, sending to 24,444 the cumulative cases since the first was recorded on March 10 last year. Kingston and St Andrew, with 7,054, has the most cases. There have been 436 COVID-related deaths across the island since last March, and 13,869 persons have recovered from the virus. At the same time, 275 have been hospitalised, 27 of whom are critically ill. The health and wellness ministry says 20,292 cases are under investigation.
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