Disregard for protocols could see closure of beaches again

THE Government is reviewing its decision to reopen Jamaica’s rivers and beaches for public use, after finding “flagrant and repeated” breaches of the COVID-19 protocols to minimise the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.

The Government is also concerned that some operators of sports bars, nightclubs, and other places of amusement, in a number of parishes around the country, including Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and St James, have been staging events, which, in some cases, attract more than 100 patrons at a time.

Minister of local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie said yesterday that while Prime Andrew Holness is considering modalities for an orderly protocol-driven reopening of the places of entertainment, some proprietors were prejudicing the interests of the entire sector by breaching the order. However, he insisted that while the resumption of economic and social activities is important, it will not occur with undue risk to public health.

McKenzie, in a statement to the House of Representatives, said that his ministry has receive detailed reports, and has witnessed “flagrant and repeated” breaches of the critical protocols by large numbers of beach and river-goers.

He reiterated that the beaches and rivers had been conditionally reopened, and a review of the manner in which people are using the facilities is underway. He said that there was no guarantee that the initial two-week reopening period would be extended, and that the manner in which people use the recreational spaces will effectively determine whether it is extended.

The Government allowed a phased reopening of beaches and rivers effective Sunday, June 7, allowing people to visit public beaches licensed under the Beach Control Act during the operating hours of 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, and rivers from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm.

McKenzie said then that the relaxation of the restrictions on the beaches and rivers would remain in place for 14 days, after which there would be a review. The 14 days ended last weekend. He told the House that the Social Development Commission (SDC), which falls under his ministry, had been observing activities at 58 beaches and 65 rivers over the last two weeks.

“The beaches especially, are overcrowded. Social distancing is being ignored. No masks are being worn. Vendors are in fact walking the beaches selling their items,” he noted.

He assured Opposition Members of Parliament that the warning was for eveyone using the facilities, as visitors would not be treated differently if they are guilty of abusing the protocols in a similar way.

“There will be increased monitoring and reporting of activities at all beaches and rivers starting this weekend. At the same time, I am urging the operators of the beaches and rivers to strictly enforce the protocols. I am also once again urging citizens to be responsible, to do the right thing and fully observe the protocols,” McKenzie said.

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