Speech by the Prime Minister

Remarks By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister In Parliament On July 28, 2020

Mr. Speaker, as we all know, the measures under the Disaster Risk Management Act will expire on Friday, July 31, 2020.

As we usually do Mr Speaker,  in the renewal of the Orders, I would make a public statement, an update to the country as to the proposed changes and then I would come to Parliament, present it to Parliament so that Parliament can have some review on the proposed changes and I think that this has become routine and a successful plan and I would attribute the successes that we’ve had to the governance that we have put in place to allow for the oversight of parliament in these measures so Mr Speaker, let me start with our usual graph. 

On the first graph displayed, the solid black line which is now appearing shows the cumulative number of cases as announced yesterday as we are at as of yesterday 583 cases and I believe that two cases have been added today from the press release I’ve seen so we are now at 855 with 10 additional recoveries.

The dotted black line which you’re seeing below the solid black line just for reference that is showing where we would have been without the cluster and the red lie which should be appearing now depicts the number of deaths we’ve had so far.

The green line that you should now be seeing shows that we have had as of yesterday 714 persons who recovered, it will now be 724. We’ve had 10 new recoveries.  Our recovery rate is now 83.7%.

The final line in this graph (which is the blue line) shows the number of active cases; that is the number of persons who still have the virus and  I am pleased to report, Mr. Speaker, that the number of active cases even though showing a slight recent uptick from imported cases, remains below 100 so we’re at 97. 

As of yesterday, we had 25 persons hospitalised including suspected positive cases of COVID-19. We also have one (1) person isolated in a government facility, 76 isolated at home; 5 quarantined in a government facility and 20,126 quarantined at home. The appropriate way to read this is that we have issued 20,126 quarantine orders as to whether or not they are quarantined at home. As to whether or not they are quarantined at home, that’s a whole other story 

The second graph shows the effect of the controlled entry programme on our numbers.  The dashed purple line shows the number of cases excluding the positive cases from persons arriving under the controlled entry programme.  So, without controlled re-entry meaning that if we had kept our borders closed we would have been at somewhere in the region of 549, that would be as of yesterday. You can see that our curve would have been virtually flat excluding these cases so essentially, we have managed to flatten the curve, however, with controlled re-entry you will note that there is an increase.

We have had 304 imported or import-related cases under the controlled entry programme and that would have started since the 9th May. Since July 1, we have had 151 new cases of which 137 are imported or import-related. Of these imported cases, 45 have been repatriated.

You will recall, we had done a simple projection of the number of cases that could result from the acceleration of the controlled entry programme (based on a 0.7% positivity rate and that positivity rate was observed during the month of June when we did the controlled re-entry programme).  In other words that was when we were testing every single person that came into Jamaica so that we could have a better understanding of what the positive rate could be. The positive rate turned out to be 0.7% and then we projected that through the month of July what the numbers could look like if we had that positive rate.

You can see the dashed lines shows that with that positive rate we would have had 1092 cases, we’re still below that number that we had projected. 

You would recall that we had said Mr Speaker, that that broken line/dashed line would have been the threshold or a trigger if our cumulative numbers started to rise above that line. At that point, we would have no choice but to consider tightening the measures; thankfully that didn’t happen.  Between July 1 and yesterday, the number of new positive cases places us below this threshold, even accounting for the backlog in testing cases.

Our management of the tourism resilient corridor has worked quite well and I must commend the tourism industry for their compliance with the protocols established.

Our greatest risk now, Mr. Speaker, arises from the significant number of persons in home quarantine.  I am concerned that a number of persons are not strictly observing the home quarantine Orders and I have asked the JCF to exercise greater vigilance and charge persons who are found to be in breach.  I have been informed that 50 cases of breach are under investigation and nearing completion and we can expect the first set of charges within the next couple of days.

All the success we’ve had thus far can be undone by one super-spreader as has been the case in other countries.

I will first highlight any new measures and changes to existing measures and then end by reminding of the measures that continue to be in effect.

The majority of measures in the new Order No. 11 will run for the period August 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020.  This signals that we are in effect in what is called the new normal will look like.  The test period for the entertainment sector with new protocols has generally been successful and the Minister of Local Government and the minister culture gender, entertainment and sport will attest to that.  The majority of persons in Jamaica have been compliant with the protocols and have been making great effort to adhere to the measures. 

Of course, I have to issue a warning and caution that we will be closely monitoring to see if there are any breaches that could pose a risk to the public health, and if that is the case Mr Speaker, then rest assured that we would not be afraid to make changes because the important thing Mr Speaker, is to save lives. So, I want it to be clear that we have heard the cries and pleas of the entertainment sector, we heard the cries and pleas of the bar operators, we’ve heard the cries and pleas of those in the tourism industry and we have I believe found a way by instituting measures that will protect the lives of the citizens who decide to participate in those activities but Mr Speaker, let me repeat if those measures are not followed faithfully and I know that the Ministry of Local Government is very vigilant in their supervision, the Ministry of Health is very vigilant in their supervision if it is that we are informed that there is not strict observance of the protocols we will tighten the measures. 

Mr Speaker, the emancipation and independence period is approaching. It is the time of year when many Jamaicans retreat. Yes, they go to the beaches, there are several parties that are kept. You know Mr Speaker I gather that Negril is the place to be for the independence period with all the parties being kept, Jamaicans go all over to Portland to Ocho Rios where it’s a festive period of time and indeed independence is a festive period of time and I don’t want in any way to take away from that festivity, I don’t want to dampen the enjoyment that Jamaicans deserve but I must remind Jamaicans that COVID is still keeping. As somebody pointed out to me, they said that “COVID stop keep” meaning that the pandemic seems to be over and there is no need for concern and that is not the case. The pandemic is still in full swing, you just need to look at what is happening in our neighbours to the north and some to the south; the number of cases and deaths that they have and it could happen here and I appeal to our Jamaica brothers and sisters, as you go about enjoying the festive season remember to observe the protocols. 

If you have to go out in a public space wear your masks. If you have to gather, as best as possible maintain your social distance; a good rule is to hold your hands out like this and then have the other person next to you hold out their hands; that’s 6 feet apart. If you have to sit in a group, ensure that there is physical distancing of your chairs and your tables. If you are touching surfaces that you are not certain about sanitize your hands or wash your hands. If you are ill, if you have flu-like symptoms, if you are coughing, sneezing, sniffling stay at home or tan a yuh yaad.

There are so many stories, right across the world, of people who have ignored these protocols and there is one case here that I was looking at in Texas, 4th of July celebration, a family of fifteen came together for a cookout, a barbecue and the end result is that fourteen of them ended up contracting the virus and one person died. We simply just have to be very careful during this period. Mr. Speaker, we will continue, as best as possible, to balance lives and livelihoods but we always remember, Mr. Speaker, we can resurrect the economy but can’t resurrect the lifeless.

So, Mr. Speaker, from the reports I’ve seen our returning Jamaicans are not observing the quarantine. They’re moving about and we’re seeing the pictures on Facebook and Instagram. So, unless you can prove to us that those pictures were taken two or three years ago, they become very good evidence for prosecution. You went away and came back and did not observe the protocol? Ok. So, the point I’m making, Mr. Speaker, is that persons are coming back to Jamaica from jurisdictions that do not share our respect for the necessary protocols, especially wearing masks, social distancing and observing the quarantine orders. Because in some jurisdictions these are not measures that are enforced but we cannot take the risk because we know that our health care system would struggle to deal with any serious spike in severe cases. So again, I use this medium to say to those persons who are coming to Jamaica, coming to look for families and go to funerals, plan it so that you have fourteen clear days to stay in quarantine before you can do these events. We will increase our prosecution of persons who are not observing the quarantine and I think that this, Mr. Speaker, would be fair notice.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve also gotten reports that our Jamaicans, our locals, have been supporting the tourism industry greatly. Indeed, staycations are becoming a thing in Jamaica now. I gather that many of our hotels are receiving local patronage and indeed the attractions are receiving significant local patronage, and I think that is good. I think it is very good that our Jamaicans get a chance to enjoy the beauty of our country.

I gather that special prices have been arranged and Jamaicans have been taking advantage of it and I’m very happy for that but the reports that I’ve received as well, is that the attractions and hotels have implemented very impressive infection prevention and control measures, and the Jamaicans who have gone there have reported that they feel. They are very satisfied with the way in which the hotels have put in place measures. So, I think that that is a good thing which I should highlight. But, Mr. Speaker, having said that, we should recognize that there are other attractions and businesses that are still struggling and, Mr. Speaker, we understand the issues that they face and I want to say here that we have never taken our eyes off the economy.

Mr. Speaker, we have never taken our eyes off the economy. Many of them are writing letters to me regarding potential redundancy claims that could come. Many of them are writing, Mr. Speaker, pointing out that their loans are being called. So, we are very very very very much aware of the economic challenges that we face. The recently released consumer confidence and business confidence reports the index would show, as expected, that there is a fall. But I tell you I share my own perspective, Mr. Speaker, I thought it would’ve been worse but it shows that there is a res- a residual resilience and a residual confidence in the future that even with the pandemic, people are still taking an optimistic posture that Jamaica will recover from this stronger. And we look, Mr. Speaker, at the construction sector and I must tell you that that sector continues to grow. We look at the numbers as it relates to the demand for cement and, basically, the figures I have seen is that it is at pre-covid levels, meaning that the demand has increased. The consumption of fuel is not at pre-covid levels, but it has recovered and getting close to those levels. So those are good signs that the economy is turning. Government will continue, as best as possible, to facilitate the various sectors to ensure that we can return to normalcy very soon. I don’t have the figures on the tourism sector but I will ask Minister Bartlett, at a later stage, to bring the country up to date as to the number of tourism workers that have returned to work, and the number of visitors that have come into the island.

Mr. Speaker, let me also point out that the fourth schedule is being amended to allow societies registered under the Friendly Societies Act, the Industrial and Providence Societies Act and the Cooperative Societies Act, to be exempt from the restriction on gathering when holding their annual general special, when holding their annual or special annual meetings. We have these. Yes, when having these meetings, the societies will still be required to comply with the physical distancing rules and other relevant protocols, such as ensuring that persons who are entering the premises take their temperatures, that they have hand washing stations in place, and the wearing of masks.

Mr. Speaker, as would have been stated previously, summer camps have been allowed to operate under strict protocols outlined in the previous Order. The new Order will now provide that the end date for the operations of these summer camps will be the 31st of August 2020. So, summer camps have one more month to go.

As we seek to extend the measures, we emphasize that we will continue to take a risk-based management approach, which I have always said is evidence based, proportionate and situationally appropriate. The objective continues to be the need to reduce the exposure risk of the population to COVID-19 while increasing the capacity of the public health system to respond to cases, within the population, so as to reduce disease spread.

Mr. Speaker, let me now turn to the measures that will which have not changed and will remain in place. The curfews. The day to next day, night to early morning curfews will continue in place starting 11pm on the night of July 31st, 2020 to 5am August 1, 2020, day to day until 5am on the morning of September 30th, 2020.

So, the existing curfews continue until September 30th, 2020, and all the rules relating to the curfew including the travel times, those remain. The gatherings, not exceeding twenty persons, that remains until the 30th of September 2020. But, of course, just to point out that even when you are gathered you still maintain your social distance. Person 75 years and older to remain at home. Mr. Speaker, this is the hardest one now because I’m getting many calls to say that, you know, they don’t want to be at home for an indeterminate period of time. You know, they want to be able to go about their business freely and we have, we have wrestled with the thought of it. Well you know they were exempted. Mr. Speaker, the- we have wrestled with it and given the fact that our neighbours still have a challenge and we are still allowing persons to enter Jamaica, that if we were to release it at this time it would send probably the wrong signal. So, we’re going we’re observing it carefully. We have had advice from health professionals, in this area, and the overwhelming advice is that we should maintain it at 75, keep it for two months so it will end the 30th of September, but if things were improve we could amend it before that. But the so the order continues in place. And my opinion is that this has been one of the most effective measures in ensuring that our death rate remains low.

Yes. So, the operating hours for markets and vending, those continue as before through to the 30th of September 2020. Of course, the market hours would be Mondays to Saturdays, 6am to 7pm, closed on Sundays.

The creative and entertainment sector. The measures for this sector would have been announced previously by the Minister of Local Government and those measures are extended to September 30th, 2020.

Places of amusement, beaches, rivers, river rafting, restaurants and cinemas. Again, these were allowed to reopen with strict protocols and these measures will also be extended through to September 30th, 2020.

Zoos, parks, water parks, the opening hours, as obtained previously, are extended to September 30th, 2020. Zoos’ opening hours 10am to 4pm.

Parks, including theme parks, 6am to 8pm. Amusement parks, water parks and water attractions, again these were opened as was announced previously and the measures in place for these will continue to be in effect until September 30th, 2020.

Mr. Speaker, day care centres. These will continue under, as previously announced, these measures will continue in place until the 30th of September 2020.

Minister Mckenzie has been monitoring these places of amusement and the entertainment sector, and the day care centres as well. And so far, the report is that there is a level of compliance that I don’t want to use the term ‘satisfactory’, but it is reasonable. There is still room for improvement, but it is not at the stage where it would trigger a shutdown. But again, I repeat, if it reaches that stage the government will act swiftly.

The opening of schools, Mr. Speaker, Minister Samuda would have spoken to this in his sectoral presentation earlier. The Ministry of Education has been working assiduously to put measures in place for the phased reopening of schools as well as a blended learning solution. This will commence with the administrative reopening of school on the 7th September. And I believe Minister Samuda would have explained that the 7th is when they would do what they call it? Simulation. Yes, they would start the simulation, and I believe that will be for a week, and then they would go to the phased reopening which would be about the, 14th thereabout. When students would actually come back into school, but the administrative start of the school year is the 7th.

So, measures related to infirmaries, that is no visitors or admissions of new patients, etc, hospitals and nursing homes, only one visitor per day, those remain in place until the 30th September 2020. Mr. Speaker, wearing of masks and physical distancing are now a way of life as is declared under Disaster Risk Management Act and so, all of those measures remain in place until the 30th September 2020.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I’ll give a quick update on the controlled re-entry of Jamaicans using the JAMCOVID-19 and the visitjamaica websites. We have now processed a total of approximately 82,000 applications for re-entry and entry into Jamaica. 31,000 residents on the JAMCOVID, that is 31,000 Jamaicans, and 51,000 Non-residents and visitors on the visitjamaica. Approximately 61,300 persons have arrived in Jamaica, and I believe this would be as of yesterday’s figure. 61,300 persons have arrived. 21,300 are residents and 40,000 are non-residents. An additional 18,800 persons have been to travel, 8,900 are residents, and 9,900 non-residents.

Mr. Speaker, this control entry process, in my mind, has served Jamaica very well. It’s not perfect but it has certainly helped to manage the numbers coming in. So, during the period of June, we have an average of 5 flights per day and 410, and 410 passengers per day.

For July, we have had, Mr. Speaker, a significant increase. We have had 24 flights per day and 1700 passengers arriving, per day. So, we’re projecting that a total of 55,000 passengers will arrive in Jamaica for the month of July, compared to 12,300 that have arrived in June.

Mr. Speaker, we’re planning to maintain the protocols that were put in place for the controlled entry which started on July 15th, right. All passengers are still subject to health screening and a risk assessment on arrival at the port of entry. Visitors to Jamaica from areas declared as high risk at this time by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Florida, New York, Arizona and Texas, who are registering on the visitjamaica website, as of July 1, are required to update or upload rather a valid PCR test which must be no more than ten days old from the expected date of their arrival. Approval for travel to Jamaica will be subject to the upload of the test. So if you’re visiting Jamaica, which means that you’re using the visitjamaica website, as of July 1 you must upload a valid PCR test which must be no more than ten days old from the time you expect to arrive in Jamaica. So, if you don’t have that, you will not get approval to travel. And, of course, even on the site as well, they do- the questions that you answer, they do look at those responses and then they have their various protocols that will determine whether or not you are given approval to travel. So Jamaican residents and visitors staying outside of the resilient tourism corridor who are deemed to be high risk based on their health assessment, will be required to make an appointment online to visit the nearest health department testing location to have a PCR test done.

Mr. Speaker, I will get an update on this to see how this is going. At the time of the preparation of this text, I did not have the numbers to see how many have actually gone to be tested. Tourists staying in the resilient corridor, that is travellers for tourism deemed to be at high risk either based on countries visited or based on their health screening, will be required to do a PCR test as well, and be quarantined in their hotel until the results are available.

Mr. Speaker, if tested negative then the ‘stay in zone’ order applies, whereby tourists are required to stay in property for the duration of their stay. And, Mr. Speaker, the tourists will be allowed to visit attractions within the resilient corridor. Mr. Speaker, for business travellers which was always in place, business travellers will be tested at the airport. They will be asked to do their PCR test. They will have to quarantine in their hotel until their results are available. If their test comes back negative, then they will be allowed to carry out their business adhering to the protocols and they will be advised to minimize contact with the population. So, Mr Speaker, these are the Orders that will continue in place.

As I’ve said, all of them will continue until the 30th of September. The orders relating to summer camps end at the 31st of August. But in general, Mr. Speaker, I think we can say that we have now reached a steady state in the measures that are in place and that effectively represents what the new normal could look like.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you.