Party crasher - PM maintains COVID ban on Christmas, New Year bashes
Rising global coronavirus cases and fears of a New Year spike locally have driven the Holness administration to maintain a ban on parties and events throughout the Yuletide period, dooming hopes of entertainment promoters aiming to recoup yearlong losses in the lead-up to Christmas.
Jamaica’s COVID-19 deaths climbed by four to 243 on Monday, with infections settling at 10,422.
Despite vigorous backroom negotiations by several stakeholders, the Government was moved to maintain most of the containment measures because the holidays threaten to be a superspreading period.
At least one popular event promoter is unhappy with the decision by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who has encouraged Jamaicans to celebrate the Christmas and New Year’s at home.
Romeich Major, who also manages popular artistes Shenseea and Teejay, lamented that the COVID-19 restrictions in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s would worsen the fiscal crisis that has torpedoed the entertainment industry since March.
But while Major expressed dissatisfaction with the measures, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Richard Pandohie, said he fully endorsed the new curfew hours. Pandohie and other business leaders lobbied the Holness administration to tweak opening hours to grease the gears of commerce for Christmas.
“The extension to 10 p.m., which is something I have been calling for consistently, will allow additional commerce, especially for businesses in the service sector, retail, restaurants, micro businesses, and the jerk man on the corner,” he told The Gleaner on Tuesday evening.
Pandohie’s rationale centres around longer business hours lessening the likelihood for shoppers to cluster – conditions that have fuelled the spread of the virus and that have triggered a ban on mass gatherings.
The JMEA head urged the authorities to ensure that there was consistent enforcement of the Disaster Risk Management Act. He noted that the law was being flouted both downtown and uptown.
However, Major said that while he could not dictate to the authorities how to run the country, events and parties could be held with certain rules and regulations in place.
“If you are going to open up bars, open up churches, and hold elections, and all these stuff are keeping, I don’t see why we can’t have some little events with some 50 people and that could feed some people,” Major argued, referencing the mid-August nomination activities and the September 3 general election as mass-gathering features that were excused by the administration.
He said the measures being imposed during the holiday season would only serve to increase “stress”.
Holness announced that the new curfew hours covering December 1 to mid-January will be 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, with the exception of the public holidays.
Curfews will begin at 7 p.m. on public holidays, four hours earlier than has been the norm for most such periods since Easter.
At present, the curfew kicks in at 9 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m. the next day.
In a statement to the House of Representatives, the prime minister said that the gathering limit of 15 persons in public would remain in place and the measure extended to private space.
He told his parliamentary colleagues that the Disaster Risk Management Act would be amended to stipulate that all gatherings, public or private, should be no more than 15 persons.
Holness urged Jamaicans to be responsible in how they celebrate Christmas this year.
“Celebrate Christmas within your household,” the prime minister said.
“I definitely will miss celebrating Christmas in the normal way,” he added.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding said he had no issue with the measures, noting that there was need to strike a balance as the country continues to grapple with the COVID pandemic.
The prime minister also appealed to expatriates who were planning to return to Jamaica to observe the necessary protocols when they arrive.
However, he suggested that those who can forgo their travel plans at this time should do so.