Fri | Dec 4, 2020

SANDY BAY COVID BREACH - Free-for-all checkpoints putting country at risk as virus spreads

Published:Monday | August 17, 2020 | 12:27 AM
Members of the Jamaica Defence Force vet motorists at one of several checkpoints erected in Sandy Bay, Clarendon, on Thursday, August 6. More than a week later, there has been an observable breakdown in the rigidity of the checkpoints, which have been set
Members of the Jamaica Defence Force vet motorists at one of several checkpoints erected in Sandy Bay, Clarendon, on Thursday, August 6. More than a week later, there has been an observable breakdown in the rigidity of the checkpoints, which have been set up to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease.

The quarantine zone around the COVID-19-infected community of Sandy Bay in Clarendon is being compromised, potentially putting thousands at risk as the disease continues to pose health and economic challenges to Jamaica.

Sandy Bay, located in Clarendon South East, was placed under a 14-day community quarantine on August 6 because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, mainly linked to the Mount Zion House of Prayer church.

The quarantine is to end in another three days, but lapses have been observed, with motorists given free rein to enter and exit the community.

On Sunday, a Gleaner news team observed many vehicles passing through two checkpoints set up along the main road without being vetted.

In fact, at one post, only the railings were erected, around which motorists passed to go about their business. At a second checkpoint (on the way to Free Town in the vicinity of the Green Park community), the police and soldiers relaxed under a tent, leaving the roadway unmanned.

In one instance, a teenager rode his bicycle past the checkpoint heading west.

These observations have drawn the concern of Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.

“I don’t know about the pass-through traffic, ‘cause normally, you wouldn’t want to stop the pass-through traffic, but if you’re going off the main road into the community, you would be checked at the checkpoint,” Tufton told The Gleaner on Sunday evening when the issue was raised with him.

Medical experts warn that exposed persons may develop infections and cause community spread. The concern is even greater now as the nation’s main political parties engage full throttle in election campaigning, which is set to climax on September 3.

Scores of People’s National Party supporters who were heading from Lionel Town towards Free Town Square went through a checkpoint untroubled, although few of them wore masks as recommended by medical experts to lessen the chance of contracting the coronavirus.

But although evidence of the breach had been observed by The Gleaner, residents from Sandy Bay insist that they have been faithful to the quarantine requirement.

In an interview with The Gleaner on Sunday, Devon Fenton said that he was at a loss about claims that community members were blatantly breaching the quarantine protocols.

“I don’t know where they got it from that the people not observing the quarantine measure,” he asserted.

According to Fenton, when he walks into the community to visit his brother who lives nearby, it is like a ghost town.

The Gleaner observed, before Sunday, taxis entering Sandy Bay and receiving a ticket stating the number of passengers in the vehicle. But on exiting, there was no verification done at other checkpoints to verify the numbers.

Personnel from the Clarendon Health Department disclosed in a community meeting recently that much of Sandy Bay was not secured by the police and army, highlighting areas such as Rosewell Road, Palmetto Meadows, Derby Terrace, and Inverness Drive (Hungry Town) as sieves.

Lamenting how difficult it was to monitor the quarantine zone because of the multiplicity of access points, the health department admitted the challenge in getting people to conform to the rules.

“Everything is not as we would want it to be, but the security forces and the health services are doing our best to see how we can manage the community as best as possible. There are changes we recommended, in terms of security measures, and those are being put in place to contain the residents,” the health official, requesting anonymity for publication, said.

Fenton, when told about the challenge, insisted that the majority were abiding by the rules.

“You have people that gamble. They will go to Dragon Heart (a hangout close to the security checkpoint by the Texaco gas station), and if someone has Western Union to collect, they will chance it, although they are not supposed to, but dem broke!” he said.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness disclosed on Sunday that seven new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed over a 24-hour period, increasing the number of cases in the island to 1,113.

Of the newly confirmed cases, three are males and four are females. They are 16 to 51 years old.

Two of the cases are imported, having arrived from the United States in early July; one is a contact of a confirmed case; and the remaining four are currently under investigation.

Four of the new cases were recorded in St Thomas, while St Catherine, Manchester, and Kingston and St Andrew accounted for one each.

Three more patients have recovered and were released, bringing that total to 764.

A total of 269 cases are still active and under observation in Jamaica, and 66 have returned to their country of origin. There are nine moderately ill patients, and two were critically ill up to Sunday.