Prime Minister Andrew Holness has moved decisively to act to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in Jamaica.
The move follows a meeting of Cabinet yesterday (March 16) which approved measures for the action.
Updating the nation at a media briefing following the meeting of Cabinet, Prime Minister Holness announced that effective Wednesday, March 18 all non-essential work in both the public and private sectors should be done from home or remotely.
“The Government will institute a new policy, required from seven days hence this time, that all non-essential work be done from home. So, we are going to be asking the Permanent Secretaries to examine all functions with their respective ministries departments and agencies, and where [tasks] are considered to be non-essential, that those be carried on at home or remotely. We are now formally requiring the private sector to do this,” said Prime Minister Holness.
According to Prime Minister Holness, markets, supermarkets, corner shops, gas stations and pharmacies will remain open as they are considered essential for the continuation of life. However, he stressed that social distancing must be practiced.
The opening hours for markets will be adjusted to 6am to 2pm daily.
Prime Minister Holness implored market vendors to pay close attention to social distancing.
In that regard, Prime Minister Holness said gatherings should be limited to 20 persons. This includes funerals, weddings, and church services.
The police are now empowered by law to take action if gatherings exceed 20 persons.
In addition, Prime Minister Holness has also announced that bars, night clubs, and other areas of entertainment are ordered closed for seven days, starting this Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
The Prime Minister stated that after five days, a review will be conducted, and the government will update the nation on whether or not the new policies will be escalated based on the spread of COVID-19.
Persons found in breach of the regulations will be charge one million JMD or sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Importantly, Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted that the aim of the Government is not to halt the operations of the economy but to put measures in place to facilitate social distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19.
“We are trying to put in the measures bearing in mind that it is not the intention of the Government to shut down the economy, we have to keep the economy going. What we are trying to do is to institute the measures that we believe will inure greater practice of social distancing which is what is now being recommended as the most effective way of controlling the spread of COVID-19,” said Prime Minister Holness.
In the meantime, all travelers from countries where there is local transmission of COVID19 will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Additionally, hospital visits are reduced to one visitor once per day, while, outpatient clinics in hospitals will be scaled down.
As for public transportation, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and the Montego Bay Metro will only transport passengers that are seated while licensed taxis operators are to carry one less passenger.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Holness asserted that the measures that have been agreed by Cabinet under Section 26 (2) of the Disaster Risk Management Act are designed to contain the spread of the virus and to prevent the collapse of the Jamaican economy.
In that regard, the Government has also approved a contract for protective gear and equipment valued at 2.2 million USD, and the Government is also expecting the arrival of 400,000 masks.