Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Stakeholders fear the worst from indiscipline at 5-day Dream Weekend

… Even as organisers go all out to implement and enforce COVID-19 protocols

Published:Sunday | August 8, 2021 | 12:11 AMMark Titus - Sunday Gleaner Writer

Enforcing COVID-19 protocols was a challenge for organisers of this year’s 5-day Dream Weekend
Enforcing COVID-19 protocols was a challenge for organisers of this year’s 5-day Dream Weekend
COVID marshals were kept busy by spring breakers determined to make the most of every dollar spent.
COVID marshals were kept busy by spring breakers determined to make the most of every dollar spent.
Among the measures implemented were hosting each event at a 30 per cent reduction in capacity at the venues, while patrons had to prove that they were fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test to enter an event.
Among the measures implemented were hosting each event at a 30 per cent reduction in capacity at the venues, while patrons had to prove that they were fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test to enter an event.
“Half of the people in Negril during Dream Weekend are patrons for the events, the other half are people coming to hustle, and that is where we are concerned that the virus will get out of hand” - Richard Wallace
“Half of the people in Negril during Dream Weekend are patrons for the events, the other half are people coming to hustle, and that is where we are concerned that the virus will get out of hand” - Richard Wallace
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Despite a valiant effort by the organisers to create a safe space for the staging of the much-watched Dream Weekend party series currently underway in Negril, Westmoreland, there are serious concerns among stakeholders that indiscipline patrons and vendors could render the parish the new epicenter, with the country in the throes of a third wave of the coronavirus disease. They fear this could be a COVID-19 super spreader with dire consequences.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) gave the green light to Dream Entertainment to stage its marquee five-day event (from Thursday to Monday), after the organisers were forced to cancel the 2020 staging due to the coronavirus outbreak that has so far claimed the lives of 1,219 Jamaicans.

As at Friday, there were 54,480 COVID-19 cases locally, with 5,702 active. The parish of Westmoreland has registered 2,713 cases in total and Richard Wallace, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, believes the influx of vendors from other parishes and unruly Dreamers could add more problems for the Government when it is all over.

“Half of the people in Negril during Dream Weekend are patrons for the events, the other half are people coming to hustle, and that is where we are concerned that the virus will get out of hand,” Wallace said. “We are concerned that it will create a spike and that is why we are advocating for the government agencies to do everything to ensure that the protocols are followed during the event.”

There are also a myriad of illegal bike taxis from nearby Hanover and Westmoreland communities offering their services to patrons, and Wallace is urging vigilance from the relevant state agencies in monitoring movement in the space, even as the activities are set to wrap up tomorrow.

“That’s what we are worried about, it is the weakest link, therefore, we are calling on the health department, the parish council, and other relevant state agencies to be very vigilant,” Wallace stressed.

This follows a call by Dr Andrew Manning, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), for a rethink of giving such allowances and for the reintroduction of restrictions on gatherings for worship and entertainment.

NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Steve Morris, parish manager for the Westmoreland Health Service, admits that there were some concerns on day one of the event on Thursday, but noted that the organisers acted promptly to deal with it.

“We have been monitoring the activities of the event and are satisfied, albeit a few small concerns from the first day’s event which we pointed out to the organisers to correct, but if they are able to implement their COVID-19 plan that they submitted along with the established protocols of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA), it will be a great event,” Morris said.

“We have no reason to be overly concerned that the parish would become the epicentre of the COVID-19 virus.”

According to Kamal Bankay, chairman of Dream Entertainment, his team has done more than what is required under the DRMA, and akin to the standard set for visitors vacationing in Jamaica.

The Sunday Gleaner team observed several COVID-19 protocols implemented at each of the venues hosting the event along the seven-mile beach strip on Norman Manley Boulevard in the resort town of Negril.

Sanitisation stations are strategically placed at each location, with several COVID marshals, assigned to ensure that protocols are observed, kept busy by spring breakers determined to make the most of every dollar spent. Two medical stations are at each venue, with an ambulance and medical team on call. Occasionally, the DJ would remind patrons of the importance of observing the protocols.

Other measures implemented were hosting each event at a 30 per cent reduction in capacity at the venues, while patrons had to prove that they were fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test to enter an event.

Bankay explained to The Sunday Gleaner that persons who travel as a group always want to do everything together, so using the same venues at reduced capacity guarantees enough space for groups to be at a distance from each other, in keeping with physical-distancing rules.

NOTHING IS FOOLPROOF

“We realise that nothing is foolproof. Nothing in the medical profession or COVID testing or vaccination is 100 per cent,” said the promoter. “We believe that this is the safest way for persons to gather [in order] to have some form of entertainment, and anything else will be riskier, and we are about mitigating the risk.”

Bankay admits that staging a revised version of the event could come at a high financial risk, but also points out the importance of instituting COVID-19 protocols that could become a standard for the entertainment sector.

“As a matter of fact, some of the protocols that we are instituting were not even laid out in the approval, but our social responsibility is to say we want a bubble event – where people eat and drink, knowing that the person sitting or standing beside them is either vaccinated or has presented a negative test result,” he said.

But as the curtain comes down on the 2021 staging, Richard Wallace is hoping that Bankay and his team will ensure that the Dream brand continues to be relevant.

“Dream Weekend has been happening in Negril for over 10 years and has been a boost to our economy, and we know that the promoters are very responsible and will do everything that they can to protect their brand and image, and all stakeholders will benefit if the right decisions are taken,” said Wallace.

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com