Address By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister of Jamaica and Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health At the COVID-19 Press Conference On August 24, 2020
Thank you, Naomi.
Good afternoon everyone here and listening in radio land and television land and of course to our friends in social media. First of all, Naomi before you mentioned that i chaired the COVID Sub Committee of Cabinet but at that meeting we also discussed the weather situation and the flooding that has taken place. Before we go into the COVID matters let me spend a little time on the heavy rains that the island has been experiencing since yesterday arising from tropical storm Laura.
Several parishes have experienced severe flooding and landslide damage. This has impacted a number of communities for example the Bamboo River community in St Thomas, has experienced flooding as a result of the Bamboo River overflowing its banks due to heavy siltation at the mouth of the river. This is of particular concern as the community is currently under quarantine as part of the COVID-19 control measures. ODPEM is monitoring the situation and work is underway to clear blocked roads and thoroughfares island wide. I ask all Jamaicans to exercise care and to monitor the reports from the MET office and ODPEM. Later on in the press conference we have representatives from the NWA here with us; I’m seeing Mr E.G Hunter and he will give us a more comprehensive report of damages and the actions that the NWA will take to mitigate and to repair.
Now, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has announced already that yesterday we had 116 cases, and today we have 83 new cases which brings our total to 1612 cases. We have 53 persons hospitalized including 45 positive cases. We have 45 persons isolated in government facilities, 604 isolated at home, 15 in quarantine in government facilities and we have 29,724 persons quarantined at home. As I indicated in the press conference on Friday. the cabinet would be further analyzing the data from the health authorities. As a result of that analysis and review, the COVID-19 cabinet subcommittee met earlier today and agreed the following measures: the island wide curfew time will be brought forward from 11 pm to 9 pm, effective Thursday, August 27 until September 30th, 2020. I’m asking everyone to understand that as of Thursday if you live in parishes other than St. Thomas, Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine and Clarendon, the curfew starts at 9 pm and will end the following morning at 5 am and this will continue daily until September 30th, 2020.
So for clarity, the 7 pm to 5 am curfew remains in effect for the parishes of St. Thomas, Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine and Clarendon until the 2nd of September 2020, thereafter and until September 30th, 2020 the curfew in these parishes will be from 9 pm to 5 am consistent with the other parishes in Jamaica.
Some communities in Clarendon and St. Thomas are still under quarantine and they will remain under quarantine until September 2, 2020. Last Friday we indicated that the parishes of St. Thomas, Kingston, St. Andrew, Clarendon and St. Catherine, for those parishes funeral services will be prohibited. Churches will be able to hold their regular worship services. We’re now extending this prohibition to the entire island, effective Thursday, August 27, 2020.
Burials, however, will continue but with strict observation and enforcement of the 15-person rule and the 15 person rule, includes no more than 10 mourners with the additional 5 persons comprising the officiating clergy, the funeral officials and persons preparing the gravesides.
Funeral processions in Jamaica as of August 27, 2020 will only be allowed to include the hearse and the vehicles taking the officiating clergy and the mourners.
Normal church service which operate in compliance of the established protocols, which have worked very well so far, will continue. Congregants are reminded that gatherings in excess of 20 persons are not allowed outside the place of worship. When the service ends, please leave the church premises without congregating outside the place of worship.
We’re seeing a clustering of cases occurring in a number of communities within the corporate area. We have decided we will take some additional measures for these communities so effective Thursday, August 27, persons will be required to remain at home which means staying in their yard space in addition to staying inside, outside of curfew hours. That means that for the curfew hours, clearly, you cannot be in any public space but even in the curfew hours we will put in place an order which will give the authority to the police to if you’re seen in a public space loitering, not having any reason any reason to be out, you could be required to return home or stay inside your yard.
Since these areas will not be under quarantine, residents in these communities will be allowed to leave home, go to work, to obtain food and medical supplies, access medical services, and conduct businesses and financial transactions. However, if you are going to go out for no good reason, if you are going to go and loiter on the corner or hang out on the corner or just walk about without a purpose, you will be required in these defined communities to stay inside or return to your abode.
We will release these communities with the defined boundaries tomorrow. Let me say that the virus only moves with persons and I have to emphasize this point. The virus cannot move unless we move and so the measures that we are putting in place are designed now to limit movement, to limit unnecessary movement. I’m discouraging persons from interacting with others who are not a part of your immediate household. As difficult as it is to hear, we have had young persons die in Jamaica as a result of COVID-19. It can happen to you and those you hold close to your heart. You may contract COVID-19 and you’re not badly affected, but you could without meaning to seriously endanger the life of a family member or friend who has underlying conditions.
Now the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has indicated that the planned reopening date for schools has been deferred. The plan is for phased reopening of schools to begin as of August 5th, 2020. It is anticipated that when schools reopen a blended approach will be utilized, with a mixture of online and in person interaction while ensuring the safety of all students. Teachers and administrators, this delay will facilitate the Ministry making arrangements to source additional tablets and computers to facilitate remote learning.
Now, the recent surge in our numbers should have made it abundantly clear to everyone that the pandemic is far from over and that the risks are ever present. I must send a strong message to all Jamaicans that there is no room for complacency. The health authorities have advised that our surge in cases can be clearly linked to a number of activities; church conventions, funerals, parties, and gatherings above the 20 rule. There are a number of pictures and videos that have been circulating of parties with no mask wearing, no social distancing, etc. Today, social media has been avidly discussing the positive result of our beloved Usain Bolt. There are also reports of an activity relating to Usain Bolt. Now, these matters are all being thoroughly investigated, and the police will give a report on these matters in the near future.
Now, let me just make a general comment, the measures that the government has to put in place to manage the pandemic rely heavily on the curtailment of movement. Whenever we put these measures in, whether it is the quarantine of a community, stay at home measures, stay indoor measures, whether it is a curfew, all of these measures have an impact on our economy. They prevent people from going to work, they limit business hours and they have a negative impact on the productivity of the nation. There are another set of measures which can allow productive activity, allow people to move and which at the same time while allowing movement and allowing productive activity, also preserves the health of the individual, it limits the chance of the individual being exposed or becoming infected. So, these measures are called the infection prevention and control measures, wearing your mask, hand sanitizing, social distancing, if you’re ill staying home, these are measures that the citizen can responsibly, consistently and faithfully execute. The citizen, having full understanding of the pandemic can decide that they will change their behaviour and practice these infection and control and prevention measures.
Now if every single Jamaican were doing this then the government would not have to impose the other measures which would be your curfews, the restriction on your movements through quarantine and other such measures which always, when implemented, have a negative impact on the economy. So, this is the dilemma, the trade off, this is the problem. How does the government get its citizens to understand that it is really in their hands? The government can, at any time there is an outbreak, respond with these measures to control movement but know fully well that these measures are also going to impact the economy. So, the real challenge for the government is to get every single Jamaican to accept that if we’re going to get our economy up and running that we have to change our behaviour.
It has been a difficult task, I must confess, I’ve been around the country and I’ve seen the-, the studies have shown from the public health point of view that when they ask persons about COVID-19 the view is, ‘well, COVID-19 is going to affect somebody else’, but not them,’ It’s not going to affect me’. Well I’ve looked very carefully, and I have not come across any study which suggests that there is a set of individuals that has a natural immunity to the coronavirus, COVID-19. So, anyone who believes that they have a special immunity, meaning that the virus will only infect someone else and not them, they are misled, and they are living in a false comfort. So, my appeal today, again, is for all Jamaicans, all Jamaicans, and you would have seen that the virus is no respecter of office, of status; everyone can be infected however, if you take the infection prevention and control measures seriously, you will reduce significantly, significantly, the possibility, the probability of being infected. I can only make the appeal, but the government has to also do more than moral suasion and appeal. The government has to enforce and, in the meeting, today the Commissioner of Police, and by the way we had the meeting by Zoom, just to be clear, it was a virtual meeting. The Commissioner of Police informed us that over 1000 persons have been charged and prosecuted under the Disaster Risk Management Act, relating to the measures put in place for COVID-19. So, we have been prosecuting persons, we haven’t made too much of it. We haven’t gone out to publicize it because the intention is not to stigmatize, but more and more it would appear that more needs to be made of it, that the public needs to know that we’re serious about this and we are prosecuting persons. So, we intend to increase, significantly, the level of enforcement and prosecution, particularly for persons who have been allowed to enter the island and who are not maintaining the quarantine. It’s very difficult, the number I’m told today, we have under home quarantine is 29,724. That would take the entire police force to police every single one, but the point of fact is that we have now said to the Commissioner of Police that all the stations around Jamaica should now make it a point of duty to visit the homes of persons under quarantine to ensure that they are there and if they are not there, then they would be up for prosecution. So that is going to be done now. It is being done but it’s going to be done now with greater frequency.
I want to also point out to Jamaicans that the current campaign would have come after the causative factors of the current surge. No doubt, there, you know, without denial, you know, we have to acknowledge that the activities of Nomination Day, in particular, could see in the coming days, within one incubation cycle, an impact on the numbers and therefore I have decided not to do anymore campaigning which would see any crowds gathering. We did some drive-throughs and we were hoping that that would not have caused crowds to gather, in some instances there were, but generally those drive-through went as we expected them to. Persons came out of their homes, stood by their gates and we were able to wave to them, limited interaction, certainly no physical contact but I think out of all good conscience, given where we are now, I think the nation needs to refocus on ensuring that we all stay safe. I’ve asked the General Secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party to speak with the General Secretary of the PNP. I believe they have spoken and I have gotten the report that they too intend to curtail their campaign, so I think on all sides that kind of campaigning will stop. The necessary administrative work to carry through an election that will continue. We will amend the protocols that we established, regarding house to house and door to door campaigning, that the 5 persons who were permitted on the house to house walks, they will now not enter anyone’s home. They will stand at the gate and deliver their voters’ guides or their paraphernalia, and they will all, of course, have to follow the infection prevention and control measures; the mask wearing, the hand sanitizing, etc.
From my perspective, I have given out close to-, I left Kingston with about close to 80,000 masks and I don’t believe I have 10,000 left so, we would have given out a significant number of disposable masks like these. We have more to distribute. We have another 300,000 that we have imported into the island, which are reusable cloth masks which we intend to just give generally regardless of political support or allegiance. And I think that the Minister of Health, I’ve had a discussion with him regarding the general provision of masks to candidates across both parties and generally in the society. We will have to increase the access and availability of masks and we will launch a campaign to get people to understand the proper wearing of masks.
In closing, for many Jamaicans there is a sense of concern, for some even a sense of panic. I want to say to you that the world in which we live today is a world of great uncertainty, and for us to survive in this world of uncertainty you need government that are resilient. Governments that can manage not just a crisis, but manage crises, multiple crisis happening all at once. Resilience is the ability to recover from a shock and recover even stronger than before. But resilience is also the ability of the government to plan for shocks because shocks will happen and so when they happen, there is no need for panic, there is already a plan in place as to what we will do in the event of these shocks.
So this government has been planning from the fiscal side of things, meaning we have put our economy in a position to be able to withstand certain magnitudes of shocks, whether it is a financial shock, a commodity shock or a weather shock. We have also managed to withstand the health and pandemic shock in terms of being able to assist tithing over persons who would have lost income as a result of any of these events.
For weather shocks, we have our plans in place. Yes, there will be flooding. Yes, there will be landslides. But within a very short period of time the NWA has its plans in place which will mobilize the assets to clear the roads, clear the gullies, move the landslides. So yes, the public’s looking on, seeing all that is happening, can have a sense of bewilderment, shock but I would say rest assured, stay calm. The government has this and looking at the Minister of Health, he’s concerned, and like we all should be, but there is no panic.
We normally would put up our graphs and we use the graph to give people a sense as to where we are. You’d recall that in the graphs there was a line and we said that that line is the trip so, when we’re planning and our numbers are looking fine, we’re also planning for when our numbers don’t look fine, and at what point do we act? We started to act even before the trip line was met. Now, we will bring this under control. There is no question. The measures that we’re putting in place, we’re putting the- in them in a gradual and measured way in terms of how we configure the curfews, the quarantines, and now the new measure which will give authority to the police in specific communities and I should point out here that last week we named some communities where our surveillance pointed out that we could see increased numbers of cases.
These are the communities which we will properly define, which we will have out for tomorrow and in those communities, the stay indoor orders will be implemented. So, we don’t want to go to the extreme measure, just yet, of a quarantine. One, reason, of course, is that quarantine are resource intense and to quarantine 20 communities could detract from other security operations that the security forces must undertake. So this measure will give powers to regular policing for the safety and protection of the citizen, that if you are out in a public space to just sit on the corner to play just dominoes with your friends, not doing something that could be considered necessary to life, then the police could ask you to go home, go inside. It is equivalent of the stay at home order.
So that is one measure which we hope to put in place to limit unnecessary movement outside of the curfew hours and this is just for 2 weeks. And I’m asking citizens in these communities to cooperate. I represent a few of these communities, you know. I grew up in communities like these. I understand the situation that in many such communities, you know, the sidewalk, the street corner is the living room, that’s where you go out and meet and greet, and have fun because your yard might be too small. There might be 13 people to one room and so you have to stay outside. We know this, we understand this, but I’m asking those who are in that position and who would want to resist such a measure to consider what happens if the 13 people in the room all get infected by the coronavirus and develop the COVID-19 disease all at once. These are things that we have to balance in this very difficult time.
So, it is better that you stay within your household. So, this measure is designed to prevent movement outside of the household, so stay within your household, stay safe within your household. If you have to go for something that is necessary, you have to go to the shop, that’s fine, go to the shop, return home. If you have to get medicine, fine, go and get your medicine, return home. You have to go to work, go to work, return home. But unnecessary movement, that is what we’re trying to deter at this time. You can make it much easier for all of us as citizens if you simply don’t go outside if you don’t have to.
Again, I repeat the point, very important point to repeat. So, the government always has the plan as to how we configure the various measures under the Disaster Risk Management Act that will bring an outbreak under control. We also have the surveillance; we have invested in almost 1000 health aids that are out in the field doing the community surveillance, helping with the contact tracing, find the persons who are infected and bringing them in early, which is why we have these numbers. Many of these numbers are not coming as a result of turning up at the hospital ill, it is as a result of the contact tracing and identifying persons who have been infected and persons with whom they have been in contact. So that’s part of the strategy.
Now once we realize that we have these large numbers then we go back now to the movement control measures. The problem with these measures is that they have a serious economic impact so if citizens want to ensure that our economy is protected, that our health service is protected, then just do the simple thing, wear a mask, sanitize your hands regularly, particularly if you touch surfaces that are in public areas or surfaces you are unsure about, maintain a social distance. Now that is the most difficult one it appears to me, the maintenance of social distance. Don’t feel any way if somebody stands away from you, it’s nothing to do with you, It’s just about being safe. So, you stand away from somebody else and the person stands away from you. If you see somebody, you know, a group gathered and there are more than 20 persons there, tek weh yuhself. You don’t need to be in that many a group. Stay safe, keep away from that. If you have to take public transportation, put on your mask, wind down the window, keep your hands to yourself. You come out of the taxi, sanitize your hands and keep moving.
This is how we’re going to have to live until we get a vaccine. Now from what it appears, and you know, ever so often we hear that a vaccine is close, a vaccine is close, but I want the country to bear in mind that even if the vaccine were to be developed and approved next year, the process of having the vaccine produced then shipped here then distributed could many months after the approval, So we have a long stretch of time. I would say that the country should prepare itself for close to another year of measures before we can safely say there is a vaccine for distribution. And then there would come all the other issues about how it should be distributed and who should get it and all the legal and constitutional issues that have to be resolved around that. So, the only solution, the only real solution for balancing lives, that is keeping you safe and keeping you with your livelihood, is for the individual, the person, to change behaviour and act responsibly.
So, the government has had a difficult time, Minister Mckenzie, because people who want to keep parties, which is their livelihood, they have been very assertive in their lobbying for approvals to have parties. We know and we have been very careful in giving these approvals. We have asked them to ensure that the protocols are maintained. Try as they may have and some may have actually tried, it is always going to be difficult. Merriment and partying are not consistent with the conscious behaviour that is necessary to stay safe from COVID-19 and the coronavirus.
So, the Minister of Local Government will announce, but I will say it, that we will prohibit the granting of license and approvals for any parties or amusement or any such thing for the next 2-week period. So, the Minister of Local Government will give further-, further details on the measures that we have to take if persons do not follow the infection prevention and control measures. And I will repeat them, I’ll repeat them again.
First one, if you are ill, meaning that you have respiratory symptoms, difficulty breathing, if you have flu-like symptoms, have a fever, if you have a cough, you’re sneezing, sniffling, it may not be the virus, we don’t know, but out of precaution stay at home. Contact your health official and then follow the protocols to get treatment. That’s number one.
And we have seen cases where people feel ill and still go out. If you have been given a quarantine order, if you come to Jamaica from overseas and you have been given a quarantine order, you may feel fine, please observe the quarantine order, stay at home for the 14 days. We have seen cases where people come to Jamaica quite fine, they visit elderly persons, they go to remote communities and we have had deaths as a result.
Then if you go outside, in a public place, wear a mask. Can I say that one more time? I’ll say it a hundred more times. Wear a mask. Cover your nose and mouth. I know it’s very difficult to do, I struggle with it like everyone else but if you notice I don’t take off my mask anymore to speak. And that is just for, you know, as an example. I’m saying to all Jamaicans, wear your mask. If you have to take public transportation, be very wise about it. You know, avoid a crowded taxi or a crowded bus. If you go in, keep your hands to yourself, sanitize after you have come out, wear your mask in the public transportation and wind down the windows of the car so that you don’t have recirculated air with the virus in it.
Then, if you have to traverse a public area or you have to go to a bank or pay taxes or so forth, and you see a long line or persons crowded around, in an area, try to avoid that. Stand your six feet apart and stay out of the crowd. So, practice your social distancing. Be conscious about that. These measures work, they do, and they prevent us from having to lock down and decimate our economy.
This is how we’re going to have to live with the disease. This is what we’re going to have to be doing on a constant basis.
So, we took a conscious decision that we would reopen our borders because the truth is that our economy couldn’t survive with the loss of two billion dollars from the tourism industry. It will have an effect and you will feel the effect in months to come. So, the government and the citizens, the people who rely on tourism, and I’m just using tourism as one industry, you know, they have been the tourism interests and persons who survive from tourism including the transport people, the taxi people, the craft vendors, they want to see their industry reopen. I visited the St. Ann Craft Market in Ocho Rios, and I was very impressed. They were following the protocols and they were really trying, but you can see that if the government has to go into a lockdown mode and shut down that they would be affected.
So, if it is that we want to maintain our livelihood then we all must follow the protocols. So I think I’ve been giving an extended lecture on this matter but I consider it to be very important and I ask the people of Jamaica to understand what it is that we have to do, to understand that we have the plans and the programs in place. We will bring this most recent surge under control, as we have done previously, but we don’t want to have to go through the cycle all the time and the only way to avoid the cycle of locking down to control a surge is if every single Jamaican is faithful and consistent in observing the protocols. We will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and we will be stronger as a people and as a country as a result. God bless you.
Okay. Hello, good evening everyone. I have a question for, I believe that Prime Minister Holness or Minister Tufton could take this one. So, given that it’s now public knowledge of Usain Bolt’s positive COVID-19 status, can the Ministry confirm that rigorous contact tracing procedures are being carried out for him and the other public figures that are present at the event? And how are authorities treating with the allegations that some of the public figures who were recently overseas and attended did not abide by or complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine order? Thank you.
Okay. Thank you very much Brithney. As you have said, it is now public knowledge that Mr. Bolt has been tested positive. He has been formally notified, I am told by the authorities, and in keeping with standard protocols, once there is a positive case, irrespective of the individual, it triggers an approach to questioning, interrogation if you will, which would then follow through with contact tracing so the answer to your question would be yes, the process would have started. As it relates to the second part of the question about public figures coming in, I am not aware. I don’t have specifics of any particular individual coming in and breaching the orders for quarantining, however, what I will say is that we do not discriminate depending on the person. The rules apply to everyone and to the extent that we have information, then the rules would apply in this case or any other case for that matter.
(Prime Minister Holness)
Just to say that the police, as I’ve said earlier in my presentation, just to back up what Minister Tufton is saying, the police are investigating. They are looking into all assets, all aspects of the matter so, no one is going to be treated with any exemption or any, given any special treatment. All Jamaicans have a duty and of course, those who have the public ear and have influence in public spheres, they have an even greater duty.
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Are you hearing me? The question is for Dr. Tufton or the Prime Minister. What is the Ministry of Health’s projection for an increase in coronavirus cases stemming from the Nomination Day activities and the political campaigns, where many people did not wear masks in some instances and came together in large gatherings across the country? And the second question, what plans are being contemplated to deal with a surge in covid cases arising from both nomination and campaign activities?
Okay. In terms of the first question around the anticipated impact, if you will, of Nomination Day, the health authorities assess each on an, as they occur or unfold, and we do have internal deliberations around activities and the likely impact. I don’t have any specific information at this point in time but the observations that would be captured under the epidemiology unit would account for some forecasting and as a result some preparation for that forecasting. We probably can give better particulars on that at another time. The CMO is here. I don’t know if she wants to comment or leave it until another point when we may have better particulars.
As it relates to preparation for any possible surge, the Ministry- when we started out on this preparation or covid response you may recall, I think the very first meeting, Prime Minister, at the other building when the EPI Unit gave an assessment based on the last H1N1 outbreak we had, and there was a forecasting of the percentage of the population that possibly would be impacted by covid, you may recall we had said somewhere in the region of 1.5 million over a period of time.
That modeling, which has been refined and will continue to be refined, would have influenced a plan that would then determine how we prepare the public health system based on an assessment of persons who would require hospitalization, those who would not, those who would require ventilators, and out of that would have generated a shopping list and an adjustment to our infrastructure which would have resulted in determining how many ventilators we needed to acquire, how many beds and so on.
So yes, from that standpoint could say that we are prepared, we have a plan but just to caution you and the population that modeling has margins of error, one, but more importantly it is heavily dependent on all of us playing our part. So if the population, for example, ignores the orders, the stay at homes orders the modeling caters to that and therefore we would be preparing for the those who may be affected or infected with that protocol in place. If it’s not in place, then what you’re going to have is a bursting of the modeling and an overwhelming of the system and the process. So the Prime Minister has said it many times, I cannot, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the population understanding their role because no matter how much we model it is subject to everyone playing their part, and unfortunately, I have to say that there are segments of the population who are going to and are putting the modeling under stress and hopefully we will can- we can claw back and get persons complying with the rules.
I’m certain there are other questions but Naomi, just for completeness I had indicated that we had the Head of the NSWMA here. So, whilst we are dealing with the pandemic, we also have weather related events so, if I may invite Mr. E.G Hunter to come and give us a brief overview of the heavy rains and the plans that you have in place to deal with and mitigate the damage.
(E. G. Hunter)
Thank you PM. Good evening. This is very brief PM. Jamaica started experiencing moderate to heavy rainfall from about mid-afternoon yesterday and that continued into the early hours of this morning. We mobilized a number of teams from NWA to carry out reconnaissance on the affected areas and as we speak, some 20 locations and communities island-wide have been identified as having been impacted by the rainfall.
The 20 locations are in seven parishes and the total estimated cost to reopen the various corridors impacted by the rainfall now stands at about 54 million Jamaican dollars. Thankfully, we will be able to accommodate this expenditure within the perimeters of our existing budget so we will not, at this point in time, need to ask for additional funds, however, let me caution that this is the initial preliminary assessment and as the evening progresses into tomorrow, we may get additional reports of damages.
Nevertheless, as always, we are prepared and mobilized to carry out mitigation exercise. Our normal cycle for mitigation activities usually has three components. The first component is usually in April and May and under that component, we spent close to a hundred million dollars cleaning and clearing drains island wide. The second cycle of drain cleaning is scheduled to commence towards the end of August, the first week in September, and that normally corresponds with the peak of the hurricane season which is somewhere from the 12th of September towards the middle of October. So, we are fortunate that the drain cleaning activities we carried out in April/May would have attenuated some of the impacts of the rains yesterday, and the second cycle will start as I indicated.
Let me take this opportunity to dispel a notion because I too have seen some videos and pictures on social media, and I’d just like to comment on two areas in particular. There was significant flooding in the Tinson Penn area and question were asked as to whether or not the roads that we have recently constructed failed in their ability to handle the runoff. You will recall, PM, that on at least two previous occasions you had indicated that the Tinson Penn area will be the subject of a special drain design and construction activity.
We awarded a contract to CEAC, Consulting Engineering Company, and CEAC is now in the process of fine tuning and finalizing that design which will ultimately lead to the construction of Sandy Gully tight drainage infrastructure in that section of the city. The truth is that Hagley Park Road, Maxfield Avenue, Marcus Drive, although Hagley Park Road and the upper reaches of Marcus Garvey Drive have been equipped with drainage system, what that drainage system does is to transport the water along the length of the roadway to the low point which is in the vicinity of Tinson Penn. We have not done any drain construction in that area as yet so the existing drainage system in that area is unable to handle to handle the runoff that gets there but it was always the plan that we would construct drains, expanded drains, in that area.
The preliminary figures we’re getting from the engineers doing the design is pointing us in the direction of about a billion dollars, Jamaican, to install so what is going to happen very shortly is that the country will see drain construction of the size and character of what obtained for the Sandy Gully, and until and unless that is done we will have intermittent flooding in that area; so that is one point.
The second point I’d like to respond to very quickly, I’ve seen some pictures of damage to Hagley Park Road and if you want to have a quick glance at this, PM, but this is the area on Hagley Road. It is almost just below the stoplight at Maxfield Avenue. If you notice that this area is a dark colour compared to the rest, that is because there is an existing drain in that area; It’s an old cast iron drain. During the construction of the road, we installed new HDTVC drains and so the drain needs to be connected into the old drain. That area has been an area under construction, it was never completed, it was never completed and the restoration that you see there, the reinstatement, was a temporary reinstatement to allow the contractor to go back subsequently and complete those works. That area and only that area was impacted by the rains because I did a tour there this morning and I’m speaking from personal experience.
In fact, at about 3’o clock this afternoon if anyone traverse that area, they would have seen that the contractor is there carrying out the repairs.
So finally, in terms of the other large projects that we have done, there has been no perceptible impact of the rains on the junction road projection. On the St. Thomas roads that we are working on, there have been minor impacts but those are life projects under the authority and management of the various contractors and any deleterious effect arising from the rains will be addressed by the contractors.
Finally, I wish to assure the public that particularly as it relates to Constant Spring, Hagley Park, Mandela, Marcus Garvey Drive, the contractor that we have employed does not and will not be paid the totality of the contract sum unless and until all the works have been completed to our satisfaction. And so, you would have noticed from time to time that the contractor would be engaged in carrying out remedial works because it’s a design and build contract so the contractor is responsible for the functionality of the final product and until and unless the contractor gets it right, he does not get the totality of his pay so that in a nutshell is where we are at this point in time.
Thank you, E.G. Minister McKenzie, would you want to say a few words? Minister McKenzie said that I have said it all. But then a new order will be published, will be gazetted, shortly which will have all the details of what we have announced today. Specifically, I want to- do you have more questions Naomi?
Thanks Naomi. I have a few questions. The Health Minister may be able to address this one. The Nurses’ Association of Jamaica just today was reporting that the nurses are not having adequate masks and sanitizers, how will the Ministry seek to address this concern? That’s question one.
Question two, is the government, Prime Minister, considering reimposing the work from home order? And if not, why not?
And then the third question, this for the Prime Minister, just over a month ago you had said an election was not on your mind as the economy was your focus. Can you what would have changed between then August 11 when you announced the election.
Okay. So, I will quickly answer my question and allow the Prime Minister to take on the rest. The issue of the Nurses’ Association to be totally frank with you, is news to me. It was brought to my attention by my colleague, Minister McKenzie, while I was sitting in this hall and I normally am quite responsive to all the associations and certainly the nurses are an absolute critical part of the public health system. So, as I said to Minister McKenzie, I’ll say it to you. I’m going to be giving her a call as soon as I leave this room. What I do know is that, as far as I’m concerned, the public health system does have PPEs including masks, that’s what I have been told, based on the reports. And indeed, I heard an interview yesterday on an affiliated station related to your particular media house, where the two of the other associations were actually supporting that position. So I’m concerned about that position but I am going to try to get the details and we will certainly address it because our nurses are absolutely critical to the frontline work and to the work generally of our public health system.
Damion. Yes, we discussed the work from home orders. So there still is a kind of residual work from home in the Disaster Risk Management Act. So persons who have family members who are ill and so forth who they have to take care of, they are permitted to work from home but you will recall earlier on in my presentation, I said that when the government takes these kinds of measures to limit movement, it has a massive negative impact on the economy and so we’re very careful how we configure all our tools yes, to control the pandemic but also not to deplete the economy.
So, we decided that we would not go to a full-scale work from home order just yet. We will continue to watch how this new surge evolves. It is a part of the toolkit. If it becomes necessary, we will use it but at this time we’re not going to use it just yet.
The third question, I was very clear that my focus was on putting in place a plan for our economic recovery and we saw clearly A, the plan was in place, and B, that the signs of recovery were there and therefore a quick opportunity to get a new mandate, consolidate the government and move ahead strongly with that mandate. You will know that as you go closer to the point of an election, the authority of the government is always questioned and it becomes very difficult to get projects moving, to get projects executed and implemented and therefore governments always want to opt to renew their mandate before they become what is called, the Americans have an a phrase for it, they call it ‘ilamed up government’. And that is always the challenge that as you come closer to the end of the term, you know, everybody starts to speculate about the government. Those who don’t support the government will say, “I’ll wait you out”. And so, it becomes very difficult for government to operate getting closer and closer to their terms.
So, for me, it was about ordering. Before you go to an election, make sure that you have a plan for recovery, and you would have seen our 10-point plan for recovery put out. You would have seen us speak about the strategies for recovery and you would have also seen, for example, the increase in construction, the increase in manufacturing, that they are returning our economy to production at a good pace. Once I was satisfied with that, then we could move towards very quickly resolving the political issue which is strengthening and renewing the mandate of the government to carry through the recovery plan. So, I think we have kept in line with our strategic direction.
If I could Prime Minister, just one quick question. Generally, you start with your graph, why haven’t you done that today?
You know, I’m gonna do it in the next press conference. I pointed it out that we didn’t start with the graph. I’ll do it in the next press conference. From what I’ve seen, you know, the graph would normally show our trip line; we have now crossed the trip line. We have started to take measures even before it did so, yes, in the next press conference I’ll have the graphs displayed.
And so, the public now…Well, you know I’m very happy Damion that people were paying attention to the graphs and to what we’re saying but I must ask the members of the media as much as you can and in in whatever space and time you have, we must now encourage all our citizens: wear their mask, hand sanitize, social distance. All of us who have public influence should be using that right now to get every single Jamaican to follow the infection control and prevention measures.
Jamaila Maitland, from CVM Television.
My first question is to the Minister of Health. I was hoping for some disaggregation of the figures. The last press conference you told us that there were some 31 staff from the Kingston Public Hospital that were tested. I was hoping if you could get an update on the number of people or the number of employees at KPH who tested positive for the virus or if not and as well as the member of staff from the Commissioner’s Office. And two, I noticed that the World Health Organization had said that there was a vaccine now and some 150 or so countries have shown interest, is Jamaica a part of that batch? And two, how much money is the country looking at or what would it cost us to be a part of that process?
Prime Minister Holness:
I thank you. The Minister is consulting with the CMO and either of them might come and answer you. CMO, you will, you will come? Alright, the CMO is on her way to answer.
Good evening. I’ll answer about the situation at KPH first. So yesterday, we had announced that we had 8 health care workers that were affected and that at that time, we had 31 persons that were off on quarantine. We had tested up to 50 persons. I know that the test results are in. I have glanced very quickly at them before coming here but of course we have to do our usual checks. I do see that we do have 2 or 3 persons that I can say are from KPH, but we will have to investigate further to see exactly who these persons are and especially if they are related to any of the incidents involving the health care workers’ exposure or the health care workers that were previously affected. So, we will update further on that.
In terms of vaccines, yes Jamaica is a part of the PAHO WHO, well, really it’s an alliance with several entities including PAHO and WHO which is the accelerator program where you have a COVAX facility, where I think we have over a 172 countries. There was a release recently that named the countries and persons, I know persons were concerned that Jamaica was not mentioned in that release, but we are in fact involved in that, but under the PAHO revolving fund. So essentially, you would not have seen any of the English-Speaking Caribbean countries mentioned because they’re all part of the PAHO Revolving Fund that is a part of the COVAX facility. So, within that facility, countries that are a part it, will have access to vaccines for 20% of their population, initially, in the first phase. And then after everybody is supplied then they will go on to next phases that involve more persons so, we’re very much a part of that. Thank you.
Thank you CMO. Let’s move over to Dionne Jackson Miller. As we move over to Dionne, Prime Minister there are a number of persons on social media who are querying the issue concerning weddings and funerals. If you could reiterate that for them. What is the status concerning the holding of weddings and again, nationally, for funeral services as opposed to burials?
Sure. Let’s have Dionne and then.
Dionne Jackson Miller:
Thank you so much Mr. Prime Minister. You had said no permits will be granted for next 2 weeks for entertainment events, what about events already approved for that time period? Do they go ahead, or will those be cancelled? Number two, I know Dr. Tufton is sick and tired of hearing me ask about PPE but after my last interviewing with JMDM and MAJ, I got two messages saying Cornwall Regional is having a problem with masks in particular. Do you know of that Dr. Tufton? And finally, to both Dr. Tufton and the PM, how often are you both tested? And when last were you tested?
The CMO will come and answer your questions about PPE and then I will attempt to give you some answers.
Yes. With regards to PPE, I know a lot of persons are concerned and especially at this time when we’re going into a phase now where we are seeing more hospitalizations, and especially when we are seeing health care workers being affected, we really want to be constantly reassured that there are adequate PPEs in the country. Now, where we have had a problem overtime, as you yourself have mentioned Dionne, is in terms of the N-95 mask and getting sourcing that reliably.
Jamaica, like every other country, faces challenges in getting the correct mask that, and correct is different for different persons because persons are fitted for different types of masks and everybody wants to ensure that the particular mask that they’re fitted for is available. So recently, last week, the NHF assured us that they received 30,000 N-95 mask and they have been distributed to the regional health authorities. I personally have reached out to the Senior Medical Officers of the hospitals to see that all the hospitals have received the mask. So, the masks are in hospital.
I know that some persons may have seen where there were some challenges that were experienced by some persons at the Kingston Public Hospital where some of those mask are concerned, and we are looking into that to see what exactly is the problem so that we can address it but right now we do have the N-95 mask, in country, and we have not really experienced a shortage of the other personal protective equipment. So if there is any concern about that I would have want to reassure persons that we do have those and we work assiduously to always ensure that we have these materials present and as I said, I know that this is a critical time and it’s very important that the health care workers are reassured on this. Thank you.
Alright, so, Dionne. In terms of the entertainment and amusement events which were already approved, the cabinet deliberated on this. We spent, we spent significant time in our last two meetings deliberating on this matter. The entertainment sector has been hard hit. We tend to just look at entertainment as fun, but it is a business and many persons live off entertainment, you know, from the person who loads the sound boxes unto the truck, the selectors; It’s an industry and what I want to say here to all the people who are involved in the industry is that the government understands that it is an industry like any other industry.
You make an investment, but the government has to weigh that against the risk it poses. We decided that we would keep faith with the industry and allow the entertainment industry to be able to hold events. As it is turning out and as we are seeing, it is easier said than done to have events that are compliant with protocols. And in fact, when the contact tracing is done, you’re seeing that many persons even high-profile persons who are affected, you could trace right back to entertainment activities. It therefore says to us from a public health point of view that if we’re going to balance the lives and livelihoods, you want to make sure that you’re alive to enjoy the livelihood. So, we start by saying that right now we need to protect lives. So, we took the decision that permits that are already issued, those permits would be cancelled and refunded for the next 2 weeks. And I ask the entertainment industry, people who are involved, who have been hard hit, to please understand that this is something that the government has to do, and it is not that we ‘re doing it in a callous way without understanding their side of it but there is a national side to this thing now which we have to be firm in protecting the lives and safety of the Jamaican public.
In terms of weddings, we have decided that weddings will go ahead within the protocols that were previously established and when we say weddings, we’re meaning wedding ceremonies within churches; that 50 is the maximum number of persons but of course if the church can’t hold 50 then you go with what you call the physical distance ratio, which is I believe it is it one person per 36 square feet, of space within the hall, the worship hall, of the church. In terms of funerals now, funerals services within churches are prohibited and I know, again, this is a heart wrenching thing. We, you know, one Minister today in the Covid meeting related a situation where someone came from overseas to bury their mother. The mother was avid church goer, a religious person who faithfully went to church and then to be told that you cannot hold the ceremony, it was heart wrenching but these are the tough decisions that we have to make if we’re going to remain safe.
So there will be no funeral services for the entire island, and that that must be clear because what we noticed is that when we had limited the note the prohibition to the par-, when we had prohibited within the 5 parishes, St. Thomas, Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine and Clarendon, people just went across the border into St. Ann or St. Elizabeth or Manchester and had the funerals there, and then had a procession coming back to bury. And that, in itself, was problematic. And it is these kinds of personal behaviour which creates the challenge to the public good which forces the government to act in ways that may seem harsh. I mean, if we self-regulated then the government would not have to take harsh measures.
Burials can go ahead but you’re only allowed 15 persons at the burial site, 5 of whom are the officiating clergy, the people who prepare the gravesite and then 10 mourners. Because of the motorcading with the funerals, we have also prohibited that and so it is only the hearse and two other vehicles carrying the 10 mourners that would be prohibited. Well, that would be allowed rather. Forgive me.
We’ll define this in more details in the new gazette which we hope to be published soon.
Well, I was tested once and obviously negative. Should I test again Minister Tufton? What’s your view? CMO? Well, look, it is my choice and I believe maybe I should, and I will therefore seek some assistance in getting a test done. Minister Tufton says he will do the same. Yes, we were both tested. We were both tested, yes.
Good evening Prime Minister. Good evening Dr. Tufton. Are you hearing me? This question is really for Dr. Tufton. Mr. Usain Bolt that is, posted a video to social media sometime after 11:00 this morning to say that he was unaware of a positive Covid testing, this was after that information was in the public space that he had tested positive. I wondered, Dr. Tufton, if there was any breach of the procedure that would have allowed this information to come into the public space and if so, is an investigation being conducted to determine the source of that breach? Thanks.
Right. So, the answer to your question is I don’t know. I am not involved in the process of informing persons who are tested as to the results of their test. I did have a conversation this morning with Mr. Bolt’s management team and we had a discussion which I prefer to keep between himself and myself, but as I said, we had a conversation and sort to bring some clarity to some of the concerns that were raised but that is a process that is administrative and it involves a number of different players, and hence, you know, as I said I had a conversation with him coming out of those concerns.
Thank you Livern. Thank you Minister. Prime Minister, I believe earlier, in relation to the revised start time for school you had said August 5.
Sorry, did I say that? Forgive me. On my script it’s August… There I go again, it’s October 5th. Forgive me. Yes, Thank you. So, we’ve cleared that up. It’s October 5. We’ve cleared that. It wouldn’t be possible. We passed August 5th long ago. So, it’s the 5th of October
My follow up is really in response to a question that was asked I believe yesterday, and it’s about the Emancipendence holiday celebrations. I just wanted to know if technocrats had recommended that any tighter restrictions be given during that Emancipendence holiday celebration and if yes, what were those recommendations suggested? And why was a decision taken not to act upon those recommendations, if any were given? Thank you.
Okay. So first of all, Britney, implicit in your question are some assumptions that you make. Certainly, the second part of the question about why recommendations were not taken. I’m going to respond as I did last evening, at our press briefing, which is that the public servants provide information on an ongoing basis to, in this case, to the Cabinet. Prime Minister, of course, chairs the Cabinet. And having provided that information, the information is acted on one way or the other; the Cabinet now makes a decision. I think it was unfair and I say so respectfully, to put the CMO, in this instance, on the spot to ask her about the advice that she gave in a Cabinet setting.
First of all, Cabinet is supposed to be secret and for her to breach that confidential setting would be a breach of her own commitment and her role; the role that she plays, and then as I explained, civil servants give advice one way or the other. It’s up to the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, to take the decisions. I can only reassure you, as Minister of Health and Wellness, that whatever decisions we make it is in the absolute best interest of the country and the Jamaican people. Thank you.
Britney, you’ve asked a very important question. Because, you know, your profession is so important to the management of the pandemic because it not just accepts what we say but you ask searching questions to get at the real information, and if it is not properly explained, the public can be led in all kinds of directions and one of things this government has done is to keep the public informed. This government does not hide from the public or hide from the difficult questions. And as a society, our public being brought into information has to be given solid information on which they can make their assessment.
Now, the CMO, the Permanent Secretary, the health professionals, are competent to give health advice. What should you do to control the pandemic? But the pandemic is not merely a health issue alone. The pandemic also has an economic dimension which somehow it has escaped the public conversation, and why? Because the government was very quick at the beginning to intervene with CARE programs.
There is also a psychological and emotional aspect to the pandemic which again has not been addressed in the public debate. For example, I got a call from a senior citizen complaining about the stay at home orders, that it was limiting her. Her view was she’s going to die anyways, she doesn’t want to die from loneliness so, the emotional impact of the lockdowns and the measures also has to be balanced by the government so, we have to be careful how we try to set one set of advice against another set of advice. When we sit as a Cabinet, we take the advice from the economic experts, we take advice from the health professionals and we hear what is being said by people and the emotional impact on it.
So we are not just managing a health crisis, we’re managing several crises and it’s very important that as a journalist, a person who supplies the public with information, that the questions are contextualized in a way that doesn’t suggest that there is something untoward about how the government operates.
Yes, governments do untoward things and the journalists must keep us on our feet, but it is important that in this national crisis, that the context of things are explained to the public. So yes, you will get advice which you won’t accept and it doesn’t mean it was wrong advice but when you put everything together you just couldn’t accept that because you have to figure how to solve other issues. So, I just thought I would say that. Thank you Britney.
Alright. Thank you so much Prime Minister. I did say Britney was the last person to ask a question and so that’s it for our press conference.
Yeah. So, I want to thank everyone who stayed with us. Again, just to close by saying, yes, the situation, every Jamaican should be concerned but there is no need for panic. Government already set its trip wire as to when we would act; we are at that trip wire; the government is acting. As we had said before, our actions will be evidence based, they will be measured and proportionate, and we are now acting in a measured and proportionate way.
To the surge, we will bring the surge under control and as soon as that is done then we will remove those measures so that we can bring back the economy. The ultimate solution, however, is not for us to be constantly putting in these measures. The ultimate solution is for every single Jamaican to change behaviour, to learn to live with the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease, and wear your masks, stay home if ill, sanitize, social distance, obey the quarantine orders, don’t move unnecessarily. Jamaica will recover stronger.