Wed | Oct 28, 2020

Private sector, civil society call for proactive measures to fight COVID-19

Published:Monday | August 10, 2020 | 12:00 AM
The groups argue that the recent increase in COVID -19 cases is a major concern.

Private-sector and civil-society groups are calling for the Government to embark on proactive measures to bring the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) under control.

While commending the management of the virus so far, they argue that the recent increase in cases is a major concern.

It has been noted that statistics show that Jamaica has seen 95 new COVID-19 cases in the past four days, hospitalisations have increased to 51, current active cases have gone up to 206, and the country has recorded 14 deaths.

The groups are also concerned about the backlog of cases and that some Jamaicans and businesses have failed to adhere to the protocols such as the wearing of masks and physical distancing.

Similar sentiments were expressed about increased political activities, which they say may pose a risk for the spread of the virus.

They are recommending the following:

1. We recommend that sanctions such as prosecution and fines, temporary closure, and shutdown of individual businesses and entertainment events be applied aggressively to business places and individuals at events and gatherings that do not comply with the COVID-19 protocols, especially the wearing of masks and social distancing.

2. We welcome the preparation of Interim Guidelines for Election Campaigning published by the Ministry of Health and Wellness on August 8, 2020. All political parties should comply with ALL the Election Guidelines, which are intended to minimise the risk of spread of the virus through the general population. To evidence this commitment, we are asking that the political parties publicly sign off on these guidelines with the political ombudsman.

3. To clear the backlog of tests, we strongly recommend that testing be outsourced to certified private-sector labs that can conduct PCR testing.

4. To aggressively enforce the quarantining of returning residents and others by the authorities, we encourage the relevant communities to support the authorities in ensuring that returning residents or visitors to their communities are monitored and strongly encouraged to remain in quarantine for the prescribed period.

Full Statement

The private sector and civil society commend the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) and the general population for effectively managing the spread of the COVID-19 virus as we executed the phased opening up of our economy.

However, the recent increase in cases is a major concern for the Government, the Opposition, the private sector and civil society. The situation calls for proactive measures to bring the spread of the virus under control.

Recent spike a cause for concern

Recent statistics show that Jamaica has seen 95 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the past four days, hospitalisations have increased to 51, current active cases have increased to 206, and 14 COVID-19 related deaths for the country.

Jamaica remains in the control stage of the management of the virus as our health system is still able to manage the current number of active cases. However, if current trends are not reversed, Jamaica may move to the restrict stage where we would have to reintroduce restrictions on movement, and on business and workplace activities to reduce the risk of our health systems becoming overwhelmed.

Phased opening of the economy - positive signs

The risk-based approach that facilitated the phased opening of our economy resulted in a noticeably positive uptick in economic activity, but also brought with it the attendant risk of increased cases. Similarly, the opening of our borders resulted in an influx of tourists and Jamaicans which led to a predictable jump in positive imported cases. We always accepted that these risks needed to be prudently, proactively, and aggressively managed. 

Nonetheless, the backlog in testing (recently reduced to approximately 3000) and the over 20,000 Jamaicans who are currently in quarantine are of concern to all of us.

Indiscipline impacting rate of increase

The phased opening of the economy also saw the opening of beaches, rivers, and, more recently, permission granted for entertainment events to be held. These were opened with clear cautions being issued.

Regrettably, some amount of indiscipline has raised concerns for the GoJ as evidenced by the several warnings issued by the Minister of Local Government and Community Development.

While the private sector and civil society remain supportive of the phased opening of the economy, we have observed with great concern that the COVID-19 protocols are not being consistently observed and practiced and, in many instances, they are ignored. One result of this is that positive cases and hospitalisations have seen a significant rate of increase.

Support community quarantines in Clarendon and St Thomas

This position necessitates proactive and aggressive steps to flatten the curve. In this regard, we are supportive of the proactive steps taken by the Government to place two communities in Clarendon and St Thomas under quarantine because of the potential for further outbreaks. 

Imminent elections pose a major threat

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has hinted at elections and both of the main political parties (PNP and JLP) have begun to ramp up campaign activities which certainly means increased vulnerability for our population that could in turn lead to a further spike in cases.

We have observed through social and traditional media that many of these early political campaign events, such as motorcades and meetings, exhibit inconsistent application of social distancing and use of masks, and in some instances the protocols are totally ignored. 

Civil society is gravely concerned as these political activities are likely to be further increased island-wide if and when elections are called and may result in compounding the spread of the virus in this period when we are already experiencing a significant uptick in cases.

Recommendations 

1. We recommend that sanctions such as prosecution and fines, temporary closure and shut down of individual businesses and entertainment events be applied aggressively to business places and individuals at events and gatherings that do not comply with the COVID-19 protocols especially the wearing of masks and social distancing.

2. We welcome the preparation of Interim Guidelines for Election Campaigning published by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) on August 8, 2020. All political parties should comply with ALL the Election Guidelines which are intended to minimise the risk of spread of the virus through the general population. To evidence this commitment, we are asking that the political parties publicly sign off on these guidelines with the Political Ombudsman.

3. To clear the backlog of tests, we strongly recommend that testing be outsourced to certified Private Sector labs that can conduct PCR testing.

4. To aggressively enforce the quarantining of returning residents and others by the authorities, we encourage the relevant communities to support the authorities in ensuring that returning residents or visitors to their communities are monitored and strongly encouraged to remain in quarantine for the prescribed period.

We in the private sector and civil society commit to enforcing COVID-19 protocols within our sphere of control. We are willing to be held accountable in this regard and urge our fellow citizens to protect our people and our nation.

Jamaica has made significant strides and we have seen positive results with the phased opening of the economy. We cannot afford as a country to reverse these gains to public health and the economy.

All Jamaica needs to be unified in the fight against COVID-19. 

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