“Stay Home/Tan A Your Yaad” is the message that Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton have echoed to Jamaicans over the last month, as COVID-19 made its way to the island.
Over the last few weeks, the entire island has been under a nightly curfew to slow the spread of the virus. Furthermore, the entire parish of St. Catherine – the second largest parish in Jamaica, which is now responsible for nearly 50% of the island’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, has been on lockdown for the past week. Some 19% of Jamaica’s population currently resides in St. Catherine and thus, the ramifications of a lockdown have affected other parishes.
Many businesses, including banks in neighboring parishes, have had to close or limit their operations as a significant percentage of their employees reside in St. Catherine and are not allowed to go to work. Hundreds of residents also fled the parish, hours before the lockdown took effect, which resulted in a 12-hour islandwide lockdown of the country (from 6 PM to 6 AM), announced by Prime Minister Holness this week.
Holness sought to make a case for why the government cannot impose a 24-hour lockdown on its residents. Many residents, especially the country’s poor and vulnerable, are already struggling to accept and navigate this new normal.
The government has urged the county to stock up on essentials and stay indoors, but these simple orders are not as easy to do for many locals. Videos have surfaced on social media of residents in inner-city communities like Rema and Denham Town deliberately disobeying curfew orders. Residents complain that, especially in these communities, dozens of people typically reside in one household where there is often no electricity, making it difficult for them to stay indoors.
Additionally, residents have voiced their frustrations about the difficultly that “stocking up on essential items” presents. In order for locals to buy a surplus of essential items to last a few days or weeks, they need to have a surplus of cash, which is not the reality for Jamaicans that live near or below the poverty line. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents have lost their jobs or have had to to take a salary cut, forcing them to further prioritize their necessities.
Even before this global crisis, many Jamaicans did not have enough savings to get them through a month of uncertainty. The norm for a significant portion of the population has always been to shop when they have it – buying their groceries and medication on payday, shopping when they get remittances from family abroad or simply providing for themselves and families on a day-to-day basis.
Now that an entire parish, with a population of over 500,000 people, is on lockdown and movement outside of the parish is only permitted for essential workers, those residents who are deemed “non-essential” are being forced to survive on whatever savings they have or the remittances that they can collect until the restrictions are lifted.
Entertainment Industry Cries
On any given day in Jamaica, you could find parties in communities across the island. The livelihood of many Jamaicans and the vitality of Jamaican culture relies heavily on the entertainment industry.
Since COVID-19, entertainment professionals including DJs, party promoters, event planners, and even vendors, have all faced a major setback and loss of income due to the many outdoor restrictions. Young Jamaicans who look forward to major annual events like carnival have also expressed their disappointment with the cancellation of virtually all this year’s major entertainment and cultural events.
And even as Jamaicans move parties online, offering mental ease for those on lockdown, entertainment professionals still are not being paid and will have to find other ways to supplement their income.