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Why Holness didn’t tighten COVID screws

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2020 | 12:15 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

With the community transmission phase of COVID-19 in full flight, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated that he has no plans to impose tighter restrictions.

Holness’ remarks at a press conference at Jamaica House has resonated with financial expert Dennis Chung, who contends that any move by the Government to lock down the country would create untold hardships for Jamaicans.

The country’s death toll from the deadly virus has surged to 75 as at Monday, with a total of 5,270 cases. There are 3,688 active cases at this time.

Holness told journalists that the deaths caused by COVID-19 were of grave concern to the Government and the country.

Insisting that a different approach had to be taken by the country during community spread, the prime minister said that Jamaicans should take their health, security, and safety into their own hands by wearing a mask, observing social distancing, and maintaining good hygiene.

“The Government has not been ambivalent about the need for compliance, but Jamaica is a liberal democracy, and how Government goes about enforcing compliance is not always a straightforward matter,” said Holness, adding that the administration had to tread carefully and ensure that it does not breach the rights of Jamaicans.

The prime minister acknowledged that the upsurge in the highly contagious virus would have caused anxiety and mounting deaths even greater concern.

He said that by virtue of how pandemics work, the country should not feel that the health ministry or the Government “was at sea”.

The head of government made it clear that lockdowns do not represent a sustainable approach to managing the pandemic, stressing that it had a devastating impact on the economy and livelihoods.

He said it was not the time to become despondent, noting that community spread was not a “fatalistic phase”. He urged Jamaicans to redouble their efforts to bring the virus under control.

In a Gleaner interview, Chung said that as a small island state that depends heavily on tourism, the Government could not afford to turn the screws on the economy as it had from March through May.

He emphasised that special measures should be in place to protect the vulnerable in society, noting that restrictions on visits to infirmaries, as well as stay-at-home orders for the elderly, should remain intact.

“If you’re not having a vaccine until next year, we cannot afford to allow this thing to disrupt our lives,” Chung said.

He argued that an increase in the number of unemployed Jamaicans could translate to a rise in crime. Serious crimes are down generally, with murder trending 4.6 per cent lower as at September 19.

“Crime, we know in our context, leads to greater lives being lost, not to mention also the psychological impact and the suicide increases that they talking about now,” Chung, former CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, told The Gleaner.

“The truth is, if we are going to have a virus that will be around with us for at least another year, we have to find a way to live with this thing,” he added.

He called for innovative solutions to keep the wheels of the productive sector and small businesses turning.

· Curfew hours remain from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. until October 7.

· Quarantine measures for people coming into Jamaica remain.

· People 70 years and older must continue to stay at home, except when they go out for food, medical supplies, physical exercise, or attend church.

· Prohibition on funerals, parties, etc. will continue until October 7.