PRIME Minister Andrew Holness yesterday announced a new round of measures, including a mandatory work-from-home policy for public servants, but no extension of the nightly curfew, as the country continues to grapple with a seeming spike in the number of active COVID-19 cases.
The prime minister also used the opportunity to clarify some of the issues raised over the past week about his Government's handling of the acquisition of vaccines, including the three basic principles for local administration.
The new protocols, which come at the end of the last extension of COVID-19 measures, and which will last until March 22, include the retention of the islandwide curfew, which will remain in effect daily from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am until March 22.
Starting March 4, work-from-home arrangements are to be organised in the public sector, and only employees who work in critical service delivery areas should be in the physical office locations.
Holness encouraged the private sector to arrange similar rules in managing their affairs to facilitate their staff also working from home.
He also announced that only students who will sit exit examinations should receive face-to-face instruction, which will now be applicable to private schools. Nurseries and day care centres — which are considered critical services — are allowed to be kept open.
Meanwhile, visitors and Jamaicans coming home from abroad will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test, conducted within 72 hours prior to travel date, at the check-in for their flights. Accepted test types are polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, nucleic acid amplification test (NAA), RNA or molecular test, and Antigen test.
Lab specifications can be found on www.visitjamaica.com. Business travellers, who were previously facilitated by the Government, will now be required to pay for their own PCR tests.
Public beaches and rivers will be closed, and the stay-at-home regulations have been adjusted from age 65 to 60 years; individuals 60 and over are permitted free movement only to pursue “the necessities of life”.
Bars, gyms, and parks are required to be closed by 6:00 pm. The prime minister indicated that the police have been asked to ensure strict adherence to this rule.
Government ministries, departments and agencies have been asked to put all social functions and handover events on hold initially for the next three weeks when the orders will be reviewed. They are, however, allowed to have these events that may be streamed online, with only 10 people in physical attendance.
Holness said that there is no question that the measures being implemented by the Government will work. However, he admitted that they are very costly to the economy. He noted that the 2021/22 Estimates of Expenditure, tabled in Parliament last week, was an indicator of the impact of the pandemic on the country's budget.
“The issue is how can we manage the pandemic without destroying the economy…but we can do this if every citizen acts responsibly,” he stated, while urging all Jamaicans to take “greater responsibility for their own in terms of the management of the economy”.
Responding to claims that the Government had been moving slowly in acquiring vaccines for Jamaicans he said that his Administration's programme for the delivery of the vaccines has been guided by three principles — that the delivery of vaccines must be on a basis of equity; there must be efficiency in delivery, and if an individual refuses the system will simply move on to the next person; and, in a system of transparency. The prime minister said political and public officials were being warned against seeking to interfere with the process.
“If it comes to my attention that there is interference [with the process of delivery of the vaccines] then I will have to act,” said Holness.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton also gave an update on the efforts between his ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade to secure vaccines, announcing that the first 14,000 from the COVAX facility will arrive in the island on or before March 11.