Last COVID-19 warning!

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness yesterday announced that people who arrived in Jamaica after March 18 and have failed to register with the health ministry, despite repeated requests, are in breach of the law and will be charged when found as Government steps up measures to contain spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

They will be slapped with a fine upwards of $1 million and placed in State quarantine, if needed. Those who cannot be found will be blacklisted with immigration authorities to prevent them from leaving the country.

“There are those who might say they can’t find me… Well, we may not be able to find you, but you will not be able to leave the island, and we will tighten our dragnet to find you,” the prime minister said during a digital press conference from Jamaica House. He added that by tomorrow there should be a final list of all the people who have failed to report to the health authorities as required under Section 52 of the Disaster Risk Management Act.

The Government has been combing through the data available to determine how many of those people pose a potential health risk. March 18 to 23 has been identified by the health ministry as the time when most of those who have now tested positive for the pneumonia-like disease that has killed thousands globally entered the country.

According to Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, the authorities began with more than 7,000 passengers and are confident that 1,600 of the group later left the island; approximately 300 participants of the Ministry of Labour’s hospitality programme had been accounted for; another 400 had responded to earlier requests to self-identify through the health ministry’s website; and “a few hundred” others had done so since the night curfew began on April 1.

Ongoing efforts by the police and health officials will be stepped up as part of a last-ditch effort to identify these airline passengers before the Government resorts to publishing their names. For almost a week the Administration has been examining the legalities surrounding the publication of the list in an attempt to stave off any challenge that they may be violating the rights of individuals.

“When you have an emergency you have to weigh public good versus private… I don’t think there is anybody who would object to it. But, of course, there would be the persons who would seek to challenge it,” Chang told the Jamaica Observer earlier this week ahead of one of the many meetings to chart the way forward.

One suggested approach, he said then, would be to invite the named individuals to come in for screening. “That we have the right to do, because that would be clearly protecting not only the individuals, but the public, from what is a major disaster. That’s almost like preventative detention of a man who is about to murder somebody, which we have the right to do,” he said. “So our job is to find those people and inform them of their potential damage and protect both them and their communities, and their families,” Chang said.

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