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“The whole of Jamaica is hereby declared to be a disaster area,” said a solemn prime minister, Andrew Holness, at a press briefing at the Jamaica House on March 13, 2020. The Press conference was broadcast live on the Facebook page of the Minister of Health and Welfare, Christopher Tufton.
Six new confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been announced that same day, bringing the total number of cases in Jamaica to eight. Holness mentioned the measure in the framework of the Disaster Risk Management Declaration of the Disaster Zones Decree 2020. The legislation, found in article 26/2 of the Jamaica Disaster Risk Management Act of 2015 , was launched following a notification from Desmond McKenzie, the minister responsible for disaster management, due to the COVID-19 threat.
The government has activated the 2015 Disaster Risk Management Act, the Emergency Powers Act and the Public Health Act. This means we can do whatever is required to control the spread of this disease. #COVID # COVID19JAMAICA # covid19containment
– Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) March 13, 2020
The Government activated the 2015 disaster risk management law, the Emergency Powers Law and the Public Health Law. That means we can do whatever it takes to control the spread of this disease.
The government now has additional legal powers at its disposal to help control and contain the virus, even quarantining entire communities. Even before Prime Minister Holness's conference, the towns of Seven Miles and Eight Miles in Bull Bay, Saint Andrew, a few kilometers east of Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, were already subject to 14-day quarantine, as the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was located in this area. These suburban communities, comprising around 6,000 homes and businesses, are located along the main coastal highway.
Patient Zero, a woman who traveled to Jamaica from the UK on March 4 to attend a family funeral, was hospitalized a few days later. Minister Tufton said health officials had been searching for contacts in the first and second COVID-19 cases, and conducting risk assessments. Two of the island's six cases were “patient zero” contacts, including his father.
According to medical chief Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, the scan also revealed that more than 30 Bull Bay residents had contact with the woman, eight of whom were already symptomatic. Therefore, the Ministry of Health is trying to raise awareness about the disease within the community and educate people, especially the elderly and those who suffer from chronic diseases, about prevention measures.
The inhabitants in the quarantined area will have movement restrictions in the next two weeks, monitored by the country's protection services. The Prime Minister stressed that the measure does not constitute a curfew, a situation already known to many marginalized communities – despite its popular public beaches and surf spots, the community suffered a wave of crime in 2019, partly due to the high rates of unemployment. However, the head of the Jamaica Defense Forces announced that checkpoints, similar to those used in states of emergency and in special operations areas, were normally established to curb criminal activity in certain areas. The Police Commissioner urged citizens to cooperate, and insisted that the measures are applied to “protect” the inhabitants and stop the spread of the disease.
To counter concerns about the authorities' recently expanded powers, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo noted that Article 20 of the country's Constitution that empowers the Governor General (Head of State of Jamaica) to declare state had not been activated. of disaster. Under the Emergency Powers Act and the Public Health Act, he said, the Minister of Health had “broad investigative powers” and could “do whatever was necessary” to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Jamaican Public Health Law gives officials the right to enter private places without the permission of the inhabitants or a search warrant. Under the “additional regulations” being drafted, the authorities also have the right to disinfect or even destroy buildings. Food handlers, barbers and hairdressers should not be ill and undergo medical evaluation if necessary.
“The faculatades are extensive. Essentially, the minister can do whatever it takes to contain the disease, “said the attorney general, adding that people should answer questions, report illnesses and avoid” public mischief. ” According to article 12 of the Quarantine Law, force can even be used if necessary.
While many approve of the firm tone of the attorney general's presentation, a young human rights activist observed:
The authorities can now enter your private dwelling without warrant, use force if necessary and mash up any facility if they reasonably determine a situation to be a risk to public health. Things getting serious bruh.
– Christopher E. Harper (@chrisxharper) March 13, 2020
Authorities can now enter your private residence without order, use force if necessary, and demolish any facility if they reasonably determine that a situation is a risk to public health. Things are getting very ugly.
It was also announced that the United Kingdom would be added to the list of countries that Jamaica is subject to travel restrictions:
Travel restrictions now applicable to the UK as Jamaica moves aggressively to derail transmission of # COVID19. Here PS Bryan (c) explains what that means. @Petchary @kayraynor pic.twitter.com/y3PuMI9jMA
– Petre WilliamsRaynor (@WillieRaynor) March 14, 2020
Travel restrictions will now apply to the United Kingdom as Jamaica moves with determination to thwart COVID-19 transmission. Here PS Bryan (c) explains what it means.
The Prime Minister invited retired nurses to provide assistance in the crisis and the country, and 21 Cuban nurses will soon join the team of Cuban health professionals who are already working in the health structures in Jamaica. The government is reportedly trying to bring up to a hundred more, news that was very well received.
Meanwhile, most Jamaicans are concerned about basic needs such as water, which will be trucked to areas that currently do not receive it, and electricity. However, overall, the mood seems to be “so far so good.” A business leader urged:
Government is so organized rn
At the very least as Jamaicans we should feel proud of this level of leadership in this time of crisis
People please, save your energy to support the efforts to ensure we have quality life after # COVID19JAMAICA
That’s the mission
– Word for 2020 is Time (@yaneekpage) March 14, 2020
The government is so organized
At a minimum, as Jamaicans we should be proud of this level of leadership in this time of crisis.
Please save your energy to support efforts to ensure we have a quality life after COVID-19
That is the mission.
Similarly, the Prime Minister concluded the press conference thus:
We are using law to create order by ensuring that the state functions (…) We are well aware of the legal framework in which we are operating… because there will be life after COVID.
We are using the law to create order and ensure the functioning of the State (…) We are well aware of the legal framework in which we are operating … because there will be life after COVID.
Jamaicans, meanwhile, including those living in Bull Bay, are adjusting to life under COVID-19, in a country that has been officially declared a disaster zone.