Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Double BPO blow - Second positive COVID-19 case triggers shutdown of Portmore call centre as ministry steps in

Published:Monday | April 13, 2020 | 12:23 AMDanae Hyman and André Williams/Staff Reporters
BPO Alorica, located in Portmore, St Catherine, has been closed after a second positive COVID-19 case emerged on Sunday.
BPO Alorica, located in Portmore, St Catherine, has been closed after a second positive COVID-19 case emerged on Sunday.

The second positive COVID-19 case at a Portmore call centre and the ordering of staff to self-quarantine have triggered more concern that business process outsourcing (BPO) companies – characterised by high-density office arrangements – may be incubators for the spread of the new coronavirus.

Yesterday’s confirmation of a 21-year-old comes less than two days after a 19-year-old employee of Alorica tested positive. Jamaica now has 72 cases.

Health officials have traced and conducted tests on 60 persons related to that facility, which has a total workforce of about 600.

Speaking on ‘That’s a Rap’ on Radio Jamaica yesterday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that health officials were conducting contact-tracing procedures.

“By tomorrow, we will certainly have an idea in terms of what the situation is in terms of the tests that have been administered.

“Then, we can get a better feel of whether or not we need to go to another level. This initial group is the group that was the closest contact with the woman. From that, other actions will be taken,” Tufton said.

In a memo to staff members, Alorica said it had learned of the second positive test yesterday.

The company, which closed its doors, told staff members that over the weekend, the Portmore facility would undergo deep cleaning and sanitation. It said that the health ministry was scheduled, on Tuesday, to conduct a site inspection and that employees would be notified when they should return to work.

However, Tufton said the BPO could not definitively say when the centre would be reopened as that depended on the scale of viral spread.

“The position of the ministry, as of now, is that a lot is going to depend on what the test results show, so we will continue to do the contact tracing and continue the testing and expanding the testing, and as the results come in, it will give us an indication as to how much the positive case is contained or if it has spread. At that point, a decision will be made,” Tufton said.


Alorica has urged employees to cooperate with the entity as it transitions to a work-from-home model. The BPO firm has two locations in Jamaica, one in Portmore and the other in Kingston.

All staff members have been instructed to stay home for 14 days.

Our news team gathered that Alorica’s Kingston branch remains open for business.

“The entire company is on edge right now. Everyone is talking about it. I am going to get tested tomorrow, and I am scared,” an Alorica employee told The Gleaner.

Since the declaration of the global pandemic by the World Health Organization, members of the BPO sector say that they have been working steadfastly to implement business-continuity strategies for the sector and at the same time ensuring that they protect the health and well-being of their greatest assets: their employees.

With raised questions about the amount of testing for the novel coronavirus that has been conducted islandwide and its impact on the accuracy of confirmed cases, Tufton cautioned that mass COVID-19 testing was characterised by panic response.

“There are countries that are buying five tests per citizen, which, to my mind, it really doesn’t make much sense. There are countries that are buying test kits that are 60 per cent accurate, raising the possibility of false negatives and false positives. We are not taking that approach,” he said.

According to Tufton, the ministry has three approaches to testing: assessing vulnerable groups who have come in contact with a positive patient; second, evaluating health workers who are on the front line of the pandemic; and third, testing all respiratory cases that turn up at hospitals.

Yesterday, Tufton noted that health officials can now test up to 180 samples per day and that additional capacities are now being implemented to double the current capacity.