As Jamaicans wait with bated breath to see if the Government will extend the weekend lockdowns, which have been in place for the past three weeks, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has signalled that this will only be a last option.

Instead, Holness is touting stricter enforcement of the COVID-19 prevention measures even as he has not ruled out further lockdowns to address the spike in positive cases.

During an interview with the Jamaica Observer last Thursday, Holness said the latest COVID-19 numbers will determine if the weekend lockdowns continue and underscored that no decision had yet been made.

“We can’t continue to do these kinds of restrictive measures for much longer because the ability of businesses to recover, the resilience now is being challenged, and many businesses may not be able to recover if we have to go through a second or a third or a fourth lockdown,” said Holness.

“So it is absolutely important that the strategy and thrust of the Government shifts from these blanket measures bringing down the curfew hours, restricting movements and stopping funerals these are things that we really don’t want to do, and we will eventually shift from them to focus now on enforcement,” added Holness even as he lamented the unruly behaviour of some Jamaicans who just refuse to follow the rules.

The prime minister declared that in addition to the business operators, he was aware of the impact of the lockdowns on Jamaican farmers who have struggled to make a living because the markets have been closed half-day on Saturday and all day on Sundays for the past three weekends.

“So it is not no big man business, it is the hundreds and thousands of small households who are suffering because of the economic measures,” said Holness, the Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Central, which includes several inner-city communities with people in Jamaica’s lowest socio-economic group.

Holness said while he understands the implications of the weekend lockdowns on people in the lower socio-economic group, they are among the unruly Jamaicans spreading the virus.

“We have to lock down because the persons who are going to the corner shop on a Sunday or a Saturday, or whichever day, to buy the two pounds of rice, the big gill of oil, the half of bread… those persons are not wearing their masks, they are not social distancing.

“They may not get ill, but their grandmother or an older uncle will get ill, and when they go to the hospital there is no bed there for them, or oxygen, and then they go on social media and say the Government wicked…” said Holness.

According to the prime minister, the majority of Jamaicans have been observing the lockdowns, as difficult as it has been.

“And again I say thanks to the Jamaicans who have voluntarily complied. You would see that our absolute number of cases is going down, the positivity rate is levelling off and trending down, the reproduction rate is trending down.

“My own view is that we have a lag until we get to exactly where we want to be. We are still over capacity in the health system; in other words, we still have more people occupying beds than we really have beds to serve them properly, but that number will come down soon and we will get back down to a manageable number, and then, in keeping with our principle of being situationally appropriate, we will adjust the measures to allow business and commerce to return to as normal a way of operations as they can,” declared Holness.

He told the Observer that the major challenge facing Jamaica now is how the average person complies with the well-established measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, obeying the gathering rule and obeying the quarantine rules.

“If the average person in Jamaica followed those rules then we would not have to apply these other measures to prevent the spread of the virus. What we need the public to appreciate is that the Government doesn’t want to stop your movement.

“I don’t want to stop you from having parties and having fun. I would love to be the person to say you are free to go and enjoy yourself, but at the same time when we don’t have enough hospital beds because people are ill and people are dying, I also have a responsibility to protect the lives of all Jamaicans.

“So we have to get that balance right, [and] it is important that Jamaicans understand that if you want to move about, if you want to gather, if you want to be able to conduct your business, continue your livelihood, that you must follow faithfully… the infection prevention protocols,” urged Holness.

The prime minister said he has already had talks with the leadership of the police force about enforcing the COVID-19 protocols which will soon attract heavy monetary fines for breaches.

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