Address By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister of Jamaica At the COVID-19 Press Conference On August 21, 2020
Thank you, Naomi.
Good afternoon to everyone here and everyone listening on radio and television, and of course everyone listening in on social media.
The Ministry of Health has announced already, yesterday, that we’ve had 98 new cases in the last 24 hours. Our cumulative number of cases is now 1,290 and we now have 416 active new cases. As of yesterday, we had 31 persons hospitalized including suspected positive cases of COVID-19. We also have 55 persons isolated in government facilities, 336 isolated at home, and 9 quarantined in a government facility. We also have 28,741 persons quarantined at home.
Now, I quite well know and understand that most Jamaicans would see this as cause for panic. I would say, yes, it is a cause for serious concern but not a cause for panic. You will recall in previous press conferences that I’ve said that we expect that there will be increases in our numbers, particularly as a result of the reopening of our borders and the reopening of the economy towards its full operating capacity. We’ve also said that now we are in the phase of managing risks and we have done a very good job in managing the risks of reopening our borders and reopening our economy. We are transitioning into the phase of living with the COVID-19 disease, the coronavirus which causes the disease.
So yes, it is cause for concern but there is absolutely no need for panic. The government of Jamaica continues to manage the epidemic on a day to day basis, and I personally keep a direct track and a direct hand in the management of the pandemic. Even in the time of a campaign, we have ensured that there is no distraction and indeed, there is no other matter that we treat more seriously than the management of the pandemic. So, you can rest assured that the government continues to make the best decisions in terms of ensuring your safety but also ensuring your livelihood.
So, in keeping with this principle of balancing lives and balancing livelihoods, we see where we have had clusters of concerns emerging in St. Thomas, clusters of concerns emerging in Clarendon and as I’d said in my previous press conference, we’re seeing also cases emerging in the corporate area, Kingston and St. Andrew, and we in fact went as far as to name communities to alert residents in those communities that they need to take additional precautions and to be consistent in following the protocols regarding mask wearing, social distancing, hand sanitizing, gathering rules, etc.
So we’re seeing a clustering of cases occurring within the corporate area and the cabinet met this morning to discuss the issues thoroughly and we got a thorough briefing from the CMO and the Minister of Health and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, and we have decided that we will take some additional measures.
So effective tomorrow evening at 7 pm until September 2, 2020, for the parishes of Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine and Clarendon, the new curfew hours will begin at 7 pm in the evening to 5 am the following morning repeated until September the 2nd at 5 a.m.
Why do we use curfew measures in the management of a pandemic? As you all know by now, the virus cannot move on its own. The virus is spread by people who are infected gathering, greeting, embracing, coming into close contact, but also sharing transportation space and moving about. If we limit movement, we have a greater chance of limiting spread and the curfew does help to limit movements, particularly at nights, and that has been very effective in the management of the pandemic. But that comes, as you can well imagine, with the added consideration that it does have an impact on the economy.
Many persons who work in the quick service industry would be affected. Citizens would now have to readjust their normal schedules, but this is what we have to do if we do not have consistent observation and almost religious following of the infection prevention and control measures. So, we have decided that we will tighten the curfew hours as I’ve said, form 7 pm to 5 am the following day for each day until the 2nd of September 2020, effective tomorrow. We will of course make the allowance for one hour before and one hour after the curfew for public transport operators to be able to move from home to their point of pickup and from point of pickup to their home afterwards.
As we have done in the parish of St. Thomas, we will do for Kingston and St. Andrew, Clarendon and St. Catherine, where churches will be prohibited from holding funerals, conventions and other civic activities. They will of course be able to hold their regular worship services. Burials, however, will continue but with strict observation and enforcement of the 15-person rule, and the 15 includes the funeral officials and the persons preparing the gravesite. The Minister of Local Government will also be looking at beaches and waterparks, and other attractions within the parishes which I have just named, that is to say Kingston and St. Andrew, Clarendon and St. Catherine, to see if those water parks, beaches, need to be closed if they are in violation so, you will hear more from Minister McKenzie as it relates to whether or not he’s going to expand the list of such entities that will be prohibited from opening.
We cannot put in place these measures without also paying keen attention to the possible impact of campaigning on the numbers. The truth is that it just takes one errant person who is not following the protocols to come in the midst of a campaign event, even if it is just 20 persons, and infect the entire gathering.
So, we have consulted with the opposition and they have been notified of this, that motorcades, in the conventional sense, will be prohibited. This is to say that motorcades with more than two buses, which we call ‘coaster buses’ , motorcades that are stopping and greeting, motorcades that are carrying persons by bus, that will be prohibited and the police have been advised. What we have decided to allow but this will be under observation, if it doesn’t work then we will shut that down as well. We will allow drive-throughs, meaning that the political party should present a route to the police commander in charge of the respective areas they intend to tour, and they can drive through but not stop and greet so, it would be merely a driving through displaying their signs, banners, paraphernalia, but there will be no stopping and greeting so there should be no gathering at any point.
The persons in the motorcade will not be- within the drive-through rather, would not be allowed to alight from their vehicles and go and mix and mingle with the crowd. It is just a very controlled drive-through. We will ask the police to observe and report on this activity and if the report is one that suggests that it is not being followed then we will have to ban all kinds of such campaign activities.
We will still allow 5 persons, as was the agreement between the political parties on the advice of the CMO and with the oversight of the ombudsman, that 5 persons may go house to house, door to door, whether it is for campaigning, distribution of materials, but there can be no large groups other than 5 persons doing campaigning. There are considerations which will have to be made for meetings that are required for political organization, which may go beyond the curfew hours. So, adding discussions with the political parties we will make the necessary exemptions for such meetings, but to be clear, those meetings must fall within the gathering rules, no more than 20 persons. We will ask that they not be outdoor meetings, that they be kept in a controlled closed environment and that essentially these are small meetings for organization not for campaigning, which is I think quite reasonable given the period in which we are.
Given what we are now experiencing, we have also had to reflect as to whether or not the date set for the reopening of school should be adjusted, we have not made a decision as yet. The Minister of Education will at a later stage, make the required announcement of the decisions; they’re in consultation as we speak.
I want to use the opportunity to say that I have been on the campaign trail and I know it is absolutely a difficult proposition to control the very exuberant and joyous feeling of the supporters who are there, on both sides, and I do know that the candidates have attempted from my part I have been giving out masks, I think I have gone close to 50,000 already, based upon the boxes that we have given out, and so speaking for myself, we have purchased over 300,000 masks which we intend to distribute right across the island. So, I do see a fairly high level of compliance for persons on the campaign with wearing the mask. I would say they’re at about between 60 to 70% compliance. Where we see absolutely no compliance is in the social distancing, that remains a huge challenge and for these reasons and other reasons as well it is best that we conduct the campaign, observing strict protocols. I don’t want to say that the campaign has to be sterile but in effect this is what the measures will do.
What it does is to give Jamaicans the opportunity to be able to evaluate the proposals before them, without consideration of the hype that comes with a campaign. And maybe it is a good thing that we are going to be able to look at track record, look at reasonable arguments and evaluate and come to conscious decisions rather than decisions made wholly and solely on emotions and how we feel about various issues rather than what we actually think about them.
I’m going to invite the CMO to the podium and the CMO will give further details and a breakdown, and she will help us to understand what could be some of the reasons behind the numbers that we’re seeing. So, the CMO will disaggregate the numbers and give some explanations. CMO?
Chief Medical Officer:
Hi, good morning everyone. Ok. So, essentially, what we are seeing now is that we have the majority of our active cases in Kingston and St. Andrew, where we have a 124 cases; St. Thomas, where we have 98 cases; Clarendon, 59 cases; St. James, 45 cases; and St Catherine, 40 cases.
If we are, however, to exclude the import and import related cases, the parish of concerns are Kingston and St. Andrew, 98 cases; St. Thomas, 96 cases; Clarendon, 42 cases; St. Catherine, 33 cases, and those are the highest numbers for the parishes. The other parishes do have smaller numbers across all of the parishes.
Now we are still investigating the case results that we received yesterday but what we are seeing now is most likely due to an increase in movement and gatherings in the first week of August. Because if you look at the time frame, you would realize that we’re just about one incubation period outside of that period. Now already we are seeing where 6-, at least 16 of the confirmed cases are arising out of parties and nightclub activities. Now we have found in our interviews with persons that are in the quarantine areas that there is no shortage of knowledge about covid. However, what we’re seeing is that many persons do not perceive a threat to them, they believe that it happens to somebody else and many persons therefore are engaging in activities and not adhering to distancing rules or infection control processes. So Jamaicans we find are still relying on enforcement by Ministry of Health and Wellness or the security forces instead of taking it on as a personal responsibility to safeguard themselves and their families. Now more than ever with the increased number of cases that we are seeing, we must adhere to the wearing of mask, hand hygiene practices, staying at home if you’re ill, and keeping your environment clean. No, I remain positive that we can still control this new surge of cases through vigorous case investigation, contact tracing and enhanced community surveillance, however, what we need is need is the full cooperation of the public in abiding with keeping themself safe, keeping themselves at home if they don’t need to be outside, keeping themselves at home if they’re ill. We still find that many of our cases are rising out of persons knowing that they are ill and still going put to work or out into the community to engage with other persons. Now persons have to maintain these measures in order to prevent to new exposure. So, we are going to be doing all the work that is needed to try to mop up the cases that are there presently but it’s very very important at this time that we prevent new exposure and new infections. We cannot run the risk of having this continued new infections, which we can prevent, through limiting our activities and maintaining infection prevention and control measures because if we continue in this way then we are going to overwhelm our capacity to manage and we want to keep within what our health services can actually manage. So, I would just want to encourage everybody at this time. I would say to persons, “Do not be disheartened. Do not panic.” I believe that we do have the resources to be able to contain but we do need the cooperation of the public to prevent new exposure and to prevent new infections. Thank you, Prime Minister.
Thank you CMO for that excellent explanation. You will notice that I’m still wearing my mask, and this is deliberately so. I am the chief example setter, obviously, so I’m wearing my mask and I can only implore. Today, we also had the Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff. Their resources are also being stretched in managing quarantine areas and they will have to now enforce the curfew. I want to pick out a very important point made by the CMO. The Government has tools that it can use to manage the outbreak. Those tools include the restriction of your movement, the restriction on gatherings, and the restriction on borders. But those tools, if used consistently and overused, can result in significant economic loss, they can lose their effect as well if people decide to ignore them. Ultimately. ultimately, what it comes down to is our individual responsibility. I’ve said it before, our success in the management of covid has Jamaicans a sense that it won’t happen to them, a sense of complacency. As I travel around the country, I see it all the time. There are some people who will wear the masks, there are some people who are consistent and religious almost in wearing the mask, but there are others who really don’t care. They are the weak fences that place all of us at risk. And that’s what it comes down to. So what- what has happened now is that the government has to put in place measures that will have an impact on the economy for everyone because some people are not following the protocols. It cannot all be about the Government locking down because you’re going to have these spikes happening. What has to happen is that the public has to internalize the measures because they work, and they work very well. If you wear a mask and the other person wears a mask, the probability of you getting infected, the experts say, is cut by more than a half. If you social distance, that gives you even greater protection if you’re six feet away. If you don’t go out and socialize when you don’t need to, the probability of you getting ill, getting infected is even less. If you wash your hands and sanitize regularly, even better. If you have to take public transport, do with a sense of consciousness, wear your mask, you know, try to avoid a very full taxi even though that might be an impossibility, but still have a sense of awareness about you. And this will help. There are many communities in rural Jamaica where people feel my community is safe. When we took the decision to reopen the borders, we took that decision because there were Jamaicans complaining that their government was keeping them out of their country. There were many Jamaicans complaining that they can’t see their families and it is the constitutional right for Jamaicans to come back to their country and to travel and indeed it is in our culture. So, there is no way that we could have kept the borders closed forever. We will have to live with Jamaicans traveling to and from and returning, but if they do so they must maintain the quarantine. And we’re seeing where many who have returned to Jamaica are not maintaining the quarantine and indeed we can trace and we have established that one community in Clarendon was as a result of someone coming in and not maintaining the quarantine. We have seen where the non-observance of the protocols established for some institutions which were not observed, we have seen the effect on the members of that institution.
So, I use this platform once again appeal, but it is not merely an appeal. The police force is working out a strategy of enforcement because that is where we are at this point. The population has to realize that it is an offense to violate the infection control and prevention measures that are put into the disaster risk management orders, and indeed the police force ha- they have been arresting persons and charging. So, we will see the effects of that as the increased enforcement is taking effect right across the island. So, ladies and gentlemen as we said, there is no need for panic. What there is a need for consciousness, for conscious personal responsibility on the part of every citizen If every Jamaican follows the infection control and prevention measures, wearing your mask if you’re out in public, don’t gather in more than20, maintain your social distance , hand sanitize regularly, be conscious about the environment you are in, particularly if you have to take public transportation, we will have no need for these other measures because then we would have learnt how to live and cope with the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes. Thank You very much ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much. I’m being asked by members of the media if you could for them reiterate the issue concerning the protocol now for the general election given the measures that you just announced. If you could reiterate that for them and they have two clarification question. In fact, that was one, seeking clarity on the new policy re motorcades and did the Prime Minister say motorcades with coaster-, with two coaster buses would be permitted? So, they’re asking for that.
So just- just to be clear, we had agreed that motorcades would be permitted, that they could, they could drive through areas, they could stop but they could not stop for more than 15 minutes and then they would move on. Now we are saying that they cannot carry, on the motorcade, general supporters. What normally happens on motorcades, you have buses and coasters. So, we are saying absolutely no buses. You’re allowed a maximum of two coasters and that would be to carry your staff, your key agents or whoever but those would have to maintain the rules for public transportation, where there is no standing in these- in these coaster buses and we would want the political parties to have no more than 15 persons in the coasters which would be what they would be licensed to carry. They would have- they could carry cars, but not more than four in the cars, which is what was already agreed. No hanging out of the windows or people in the trunk, orderly and decent-. There would be no stopping so we have, we would remove the gathering for stopping so there is no gathering and there is no stopping. So, it’s basically driving through communities, you can play your music, you can have your displays and that’s it. We will observe it and then on Monday we will make a further decision if that needs to be abandoned as well.
Thank you so much Prime Minister. There’s one for the CMO from -, there is I should tell the Prime Minister and members of the media, there is a news editors’ WhatsApp group and they’re just seeking clarification. They do understand our technology issue and our technology providers are actually still working on the matter concerning just how we get that Zoom link up and our connectivity here that went out this morning. But in terms of again, wanting some clarity the first question came from Mr. Milton Walker of TVJ, the second question for clarification is from Mr. Damion Mitchell at the Gleaner, and he’s asking the CMO, given that there are 98 covid cases in Kingston, should there be a tighter restrictions for holiday periods given that we did not do that for the Emancipation period?
What the Prime Minister had outlined in terms of the curfew is our initial the, initial response to the increasing of restrictions in the Kingston and St. Andrew area. Now as we will be looking at what other measures need to be put in place overtime, but this is the initial response. These are policy issues that decisions will be taken by the cabinet of the country. Thank you.
Alright, thank you so much. That exhausts the questions, in terms of clarification that the editors’.
But just to reaffirm to-, that the measures that we have announced takes effect tomorrow. In terms of closing down on holidays, I believe that is something that we had started. For Independence, we picked up that there was a great deal of fatigue having gone through almost-, well, more than 3 months of some variation of lockdowns, and we began to see where many persons in the society were exhibiting the signs of fatigue. So, we allowed a period where not for breaching but for a kind of normalcy to return. It is quite unfortunate that, you know, there was not a very strict observance of the protocols. So, going forward, I hope that all in the society would understand that it is important as we try to balance all the issues that are at play. It is important that we all follow the infection prevention and control measures. Wear your mask, wear it consistently, wear it routinely, hand sanitize, social distance, if you don’t have to go out and party, if you don’t have to go out just stay home, you know, so just be very conscious that the virus is at large in the society. We can’t tell who has it just by looking, you just have to be absolutely careful.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
Thank you so much Mr. Prime Minister. And that ends our briefing for today. Thank you so much for your understanding, members of the media, in terms of our Zoom link, and certainly the Prime Minister has reiterated that the cabinet will again review some matters on Monday. And certainly, as soon as we’re able to, we’ll call you again for another briefing.
Thank you and have a good rest of today.