Jamaicans are breathing a sigh of relief over yesterday's announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that COVID-19 curfew hours will be shortened over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, to allow more leeway for festivities.
“It is not our intention to, in any way, deprive persons of enjoying the spirit of Christmas and enjoying the festivities of the season. The country has been under so much stress and so much pressure that people need to be able to enjoy the season responsibly… people ought to remember that the threat [of the novel coronavirus] is very much real, especially with a new variant that spreads rapidly and apparently evades vaccine protection,” he said, announcing updated COVID-19 control measures in the House of Representatives yesterday.
The new measures take effect on Friday, December 10 until January 13, 2022. The daily curfews will begin at 10:00 am until 5:00 am, except for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve when the curfew will commence at 1:00 am on both days, and end at 5:00 am. The opening hours for beaches, rivers and water attractions have been extended by one hour, to 5:00 pm.
The prime minister stressed that people must now heighten personal responsibility for their own safety, noting that 98 per cent of hospitalisations for COVID-19 are unvaccinated individuals, although admissions have been significantly reduced over the months.
He again warned Jamaicans to be on guard for a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, noting that the Omricon variant of the virus has an unusually large number of mutations, which has led to concerns about increased transmissibility. Despite travel restrictions, the variant has been reported in about 40 countries.
“It is therefore only a matter of time before it gets to Jamaica. We therefore need to maintain a high degree of caution and vigilance,” he stressed, but emphasised that there was no reason to panic.
“The same standard ways to protect ourselves that we are now very accustomed to, works against the new variant, we just need to be more diligent about doing these things,” Holness said.
The prime minister also announced that work-from-home orders for the public sector will end on December 31, and urged the private sector, which has followed the lead of the public sector, to “do what is best” for its operations.
“We need to get back to normal, but to do so safely. This is not to say that we are abandoning work-from-home totally. It will be an option, but not a requirement. Individual ministries, departments, and agencies should assess their own circumstances and determine what is best,” he said.
Holness also advised that all school staff are expected to physically report for work once face-to-face classes are in scheduled.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding expressed support for the further ease in restrictions and joined in the call for Jamaicans to be cautious. He said an additional hour may have been more beneficial to people to complete their business without encroaching on curfew hours.
“Given the heightened commerce that is so important to business people of all levels, I was actually hoping it would have been set at 11:00 pm, but it's important that the curfew hours be realistically set, so if it is set at a more realistic time, then compliance will probably improve. That extra hour would let us do so responsibly,” he said.
Jamaica recorded 18 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the cumulative cases since March last year to 91,505 as of yesterday morning, and 2,411 deaths from the disease. Vaccination rates remain just shy of 19 per cent of the population, with 526,390 people fully vaccinated.