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ELECTION WOE - COVID Cabinet team to review 98-case one-day jump

Published:Friday | August 21, 2020 | 12:00 AMshanna monteith, Paul Clarke, Chris Serju, and Judana Murphy/Gleaner Writers
Jamaica Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness rings the bell for supporters who stood in the rain to see him as he toured sections of St Catherine North Central, St Catherine North Western and St Catherine North Eastern on Thursday, August 20.

A 98-case jump in COVID-19 cases and a 15th death will concentrate the minds of a Cabinet subcommittee that meets today to review the record one-day increase. New concerns are rising about whether to postpone the September 3 general election as well as delay the reopening of schools four days later.

The alarm comes as the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) has deplored as “disheartening” the disregard for the wearing of masks and the observance of social distancing to prevent coronavirus spread.

“The leadership of both parties have indicated that their respective supporters will behave responsibly but actions speak louder than words!” said MAJ President Dr Andrew Manning.

Ten of the cases are from backlog samples and the remaining 88 are from recent testing, pushing the overall count of confirmed cases to 1,290.

There are now 416 active cases.

The staging of the general election has heightened public-health concerns, with political campaigns sweeping through inner-city shanties, suburbs, and rural districts, with most supporters not wearing masks or observing social-distancing laws.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton cautioned that any decision to suspend either of the events would be left to the deliberation of the Cabinet.

“The prime minister is on record, as am I, as saying that if there are surges or spikes, as the case maybe that requires further assessment and response, then those decisions will be taken in the public-health interest,” he said Thursday at a digital press conference.

The communities of Albion, York, and Seaforth were placed under quarantine before daybreak on Thursday, sparked by a rash of 13 positive COVID cases detected in the past three weeks. Three other communities – Bamboo River, Church Corner, and Lower Summit – had lockdown measures imposed on August 6.

Twenty-five St Thomas communities are under the COVID-19 radar, Chief Medical Officer Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie disclosed at Thursday’s press conference.

Bisasor-McKenzie said that the large numbers of cases are from tests done between August 10 and 17.

She said that the increase is likely from events held over the Independence holiday period.

“We believe that some of what is happening now two weeks later is as a result of those activities there,” said Bisasor-McKenzie while urging caution going forward, a possible hint at crowds triggered by the election cycle.

Fielding questions from journalists, Tufton said that Cabinet would impose a whole-scale lockdown of St Thomas, in the manner of an April quarantine of St Catherine, only on the recommendation from public-health experts.

Holness had told reporters on Tuesday’s nomination day that he had no regrets calling the election amid the latest coronavirus spike.

“You can’t allow your institutions to collapse. You can’t allow democracy to fail because of COVID.”

For business interests, though, the concerns are far removed from poll numbers, said Richard Pandohie, chief executive officer of the Seprod Group of Companies.

Emphasising that he was giving a personal view, Pandohie said that his biggest concern about the September 3 election was the potential of campaigning “to accelerate the spread of the pandemic”.

“The key thing for us is for the election to be done in a manner that will not accelerate the COVID spread,” said Pandohie on Thursday.

The Representation of the People Act allows for an election to be postponed between the date of announcement and the appointed election date if the governor general is satisfied that it is expedient to do so.

Section 20 (1)(c) states that by reason of “the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence or outbreak of infectious disease or other calamity whether similar to the foregoing or not”, the governor general, by proclamation, may adjourn the holding of the poll to a specified date, not more than 30 days after the original election date.

Jamaica’s 2007 general election, which was scheduled for August 27, was delayed until September 3 because of Hurricane Dean.

Section (20) (5) further says that if the proclamation is made after nomination day, it “shall in no way affect the validity of any nomination validly made upon nomination day and no other nomination shall be made”.

While there may be indecision on whether to go ahead with the election, residents of York have already given their vote.

One resident who was ordered by the security forces to close her shop and remain indoors said that she would not be leaving her home to vote on election day.

“Postpone the election ‘til a next time when this thing calm down. It’s unfair to us. If you locking us down and saying that the virus is spreading and then you going to say we can come out after September 2 because election is the next day … dat nuh unfair to we?” said Lorna Wilson of Tamarind Tree in York.

“I am worried about spreading the virus, too, because if me did might have it up to September 2, that mean mi still might have it fi September 3, so because mi nuh want to spread it, mi naw come vote.”

Lamenting the animated activities of nomination day on Tuesday, the shopkeeper shared her fears for the health of the parish.

“You see when mi see the motorcade dem pass here weh day, mi say, ‘Yes, this is it … St Thomas done for!’ There was no social distancing on the trailer or the buses. When I saw that, I knew that after election, the Government going to lock down the country tighter … right after we vote.”