It was already evident to Jamaicans and members of the diaspora given the number of COVID-19 cases over the past month and the state of the hospitals, but on Sunday, March 21, Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared that Jamaica had reached its breaking point in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As promised, Holness announced a slew of stronger measures, including a series of lockdowns for the next three weekends. The Prime Minister lashed out at some residents for not adhering to the protocols, saying that although the government had tried to hold off imposing any form of lockdown, the selfishness of some Jamaicans would be felt by all.
“Some people have interests in going to parties. It is the ultimate expression of social selfishness to be pursuing these kinds of activities which aid in the spread,” Prime Minister Holness said.
The minister of health and wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton also echoed Holness’s comments and painted a grim picture of the healthcare system. Dr. Tufton said that some sick patients across Jamaica now have to be housed under subpar conditions because hospitals are overcapacity.
“There are some thirteen hospitals, including Kingston Public and the University Hospital, that are now in the red alert zone and they have all exceed 100% of their COVID-19 isolation capacity. To exceed the capacity means that we now have to house positive patients who have to be hospitalized under less than ideal circumstances. In other words, we have to put them in makeshift sections of the hospital. That is the clearest indicator of a system being overwhelmed — in some cases, up to 150% of capacity,” Dr. Tufton explained.
To curb the spike in cases, Jamaicans will have to stay at home for the next three weekends. The lockdowns would begin from midday on Saturdays to Mondays at 5 a.m. During the Easter holidays, the lockdown will commence on Good Friday, April 2 to 5 a.m. on April 6th.
On the ‘no movement’ days, only people employed to essential businesses, people seeking emergency medical care and those traveling to and from the airports will be allowed to travel.
Other measures announced include extensions of the UK travel ban until mid-April and the pretesting travel requirement until June 30, a ban on funerals and closure of beaches and attractions.
Harsher Penalties for those Who Breach COVID-19 Protocols
One key component of the COVID-19 management that the Jamaica government has struggled with is the enforcement of the protocols. But that could change following the new changes Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) Act.
The legislation has been used by the government to legally implement and enforce COVID-19 restrictions.
On March 23, the House of Representatives approved amendments to the Act to add a ticketing system with fines for persons who breach COVID-19 protocols. The fines range from JMD $3000 for tier one offenses like using a river outside of the specified times to JMD $500,000 for tier ten offenses like operating a bar, club, or attraction during a prohibited period.
In showing his support for the new fines, the island’s Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck said, “This country needs some discipline and it’s the intention that this bill will assist the police force to save lives. Our hospitals are overflowing and unless we have some drastic actions, lives will be lost.”
The new penalties have also been supported by the Prime Minister and members of the opposition, People’s National Party.