COVID back-pedal

Written by on July 27, 2021

Barely a month after announcing relaxed COVID-19 measures the Jamaican Government was yesterday forced to back-pedal, pushed by rising infections numbering an average 135 new cases per day with a staggering 1,318 new cases already recorded for the month of July alone.

Consequently, Jamaicans will, beginning today for the next two weeks at least, experience tighter curfew hours as the Administration seeks to reduce the amount of time allowed for movement.

The new measures attracted mixed reactions among the business sector, with some people saying that they would negatively affect operations, while others argued that the Government had no choice and did the right thing.

Only last Tuesday Prime Minister Andrew Holness had hinted that, based on the uptick in cases islandwide, the Government would have to rein in nationals earlier than August 10 when the latest set of measures were set to expire.

Addressing the nation yesterday afternoon, Holness said, based on the rapid increase in infections being seen, it was clear that the Government “needs to act now”, especially given plans to reopen schools for face-to-face instruction in September.

He further warned that on August 11 when the preliminary measures which take effect today expire, the Government might introduce even tighter measures if the infection rate shows no sign of slowing. As for the reproductive rate which shows how fast the virus is spreading by measuring how many additional people are infected on average by one infected person, that is now at 1.4. Epidemiologists have said that this figure needs to remain below 1 for at least a six-week period.

Effective today the all-island curfew hours will run from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am Monday to Saturday and commence from 3:00 pm to 5:00 am for Sundays and public holidays. The curfew for the Emancipation Day holiday (officially Sunday, August 1) but which will be observed on Monday, August 2, will commence at 3:00 pm that day and will end at 5:00 am the Tuesday. The curfew for Friday, August 6, Independence Day, will also begin at 3:00 pm ending 5:00 am the Saturday.

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In the meantime, the capacity limits for places of worship, gyms, bars and small events which were, under the last order, increased upwards have also been revised.

Effective today, the 70 per cent capacity limit that applies to these establishment has been reduced to 50 per cent while the existing limit for small events is being reduced from the previous 100 people or 60 per cent of capacity to 50 per cent.

According to Holness, health officials are concerned that all key indicators are showing rapid increase signalling the onset of a dreaded third wave. Tighter operating hours are also being introduced for beaches and rivers which will now be open from 6:00 am to 4:00 pm on weekdays and 6:00 am to 2:00 pm on Sundays.

Already officials are expressing discomfort with the general hospitalisation occupancy with seven entities in the red alert zone (over 80 per cent occupancy) and four in the amber zone (greater than 74 per cent occupancy). Hospitalisations over the last seven days alone have gone from 215 daily to 298.

Speaking during the briefing yesterday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said transmission rates have moved from medium to very high in a matter of days. He said the geographic spread of the virus has also been increasing with over 306 communities recording cases in the last two weeks.

In the meantime, the Government is pinning its hopes on Jamaicans taking up the vaccines which are being offered.

“We are slated to receive significant supplies of vaccines starting in August,” Holness said yesterday. “We have seen from the experience of other countries, and from our own, how insidious this virus is and how quickly spikes can occur. The data suggest that we are in the early stages of our third wave; we always expected that we would have a third wave, and many countries around the world are now experiencing theirs. The only way to avoid spikes during this new wave is for every single Jamaican, every man, woman, and child to take personal responsibility to exercise extreme care, caution, and diligence in observing the protocols.

“What I’m about to say may offend, but the unvaccinated could become the foundation for crisis. When the opportunity comes, you should do what is in your best interest — take the vaccines. It is really unfair to watch others take it and hope to get a reprieve,” Holness said while noting that the 65 per cent vaccination target for Jamaica to achieve herd immunity might have to be raised higher.

Responding to the new measures, Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association President John Mahfood said they were “reasonable”.

“The fact is that he expanded the hours three weeks ago as an experiment because of the pressures that were brought to bear by the number of people who were suffering and who were being affected. The good thing is that he didn’t wait until August 10, but brought it to a close earlier when they saw the reality of the effect of the opening up,” Mahfood said.

“I think he did the right thing and in the right time. I think he’s thinking, this is early days, we have just started to see the increase in the numbers of the infections, and next week and the following week when we have the summer vacation, and Emancipation [holidays], will that bring additional problems,” Mahfood said.

He however noted that if the numbers do not decline over the next two weeks the Government might have to resort to additional measures, including clamping down on visitors to the island.

“Right now they’re not required to have vaccines, and maybe that’s something they’ll have to do,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ryan Morrison, president of the Negril Entertainment Association, said the new curfew hours will make it a lot harder for the entertainment sector to be sustainable.

“The new measures are no help to the entertainment industry. Any reduction in time reduces profitability; entertainment is time-driven,” he said.

At the same time, Moses Chybar, president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, said the extended curfew hours, though unfortunate, did not come as a total surprise.

“The reduced hours, however, will negatively impact our businesses. Sales will be lower and could result in more job losses. The truth is that the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths have been on the rise, so something had to be done,” Chybar said.

“It is my hope that each citizen will take responsibility for [his/her] safety by adhering to the protocols in place and work together to reduce the numbers.”

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