St Catherine lockdown

GOVERNMENT yesterday announced a one-week lockdown of St Catherine, saying the strict measure was triggered by a big spike in the number of positive COVID-19 cases from 73 to 105.

The Alorica call centre in Portmore, St Catherine, was named as the site of Jamaica’s largest number of COVID-19 cases since the island saw its first case in early March, with a total of 33 of its employees testing positive for the deadly virus.

The 31 new positive tests were announced by Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton at Jamaica House yesterday, followed by the announcement of the lockdown by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Two positive tests related to the call centre, Alorica Interventions, were previously disclosed. The facility, which has since been closed, has a staff of 787. (See related story on Page 3.)

Holness advised that the restriction imposed on residents of St Catherine could go on for 14 days. “This measure is a start, and we are starting with St Catherine,” he said.

The prime minister further announced that the police and health authorities have been instructed to launch an investigation into the circumstances under which the outbreak at the call centre occurred and to pursue charges where appropriate.

According to Dr Tufton, 258 workers have been sampled, and the 33 positive tests are from a total of 65 which have been done among the staff so far.

The majority of those who tested positive at the call centre are female, and the cases are from St Catherine and Kingston and St Andrew. There are now 32 imported cases of the deadly virus, 34 are contacts of confirmed cases and six are local transmissions.

“The ministry is also working diligently to identify each of their contacts for testing, while investigations continue to identify other positive exposed persons,” Dr Tufton said.

“The challenges in St Catherine we expect to continue for some time to come, and we intend to mobilise [all the resources] in order to contain what is an unfortunate situation, but one that we have to confront and deal with,” said the health minister.

Prime Minister Holness stressed that while some business process outsourcing (BPO) operations have been following the guidelines, some have not.

“Aside from the individual responsibility, there is a corporate responsibility and a Government responsibility, where persons who are entrusted with resources and management over others are required to exercise a higher level of diligence. It was always expected that there would be a spike. Now [we have] 32 additional cases when in the past the highest number we have had at any one testing would have been six. That tells you that we are now entering into a new phase. Maybe it is that we should be scared, maybe that is the only way behaviour is going to change,” he stated.

Under the lockdown, all residents in the parish must wear a mask in public at all times, and bear government-issued photo identification when in the public space.

“During lockdown everyone is expected to stay in their premises,” Holness emphasised, using the now popular phrase among Jamaicans: “Tan a yuh yard.”

Residents of the parish are restricted to set days and hours to go about purchasing their essentials. Individuals 65 years and older, pregnant women, and the disabled will be allowed to get their essentials of food and medication between the hours of 8:00 am and 10:00 am on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

All other residents are allowed to get their essentials during specific periods, on those two days, according to surnames.

People whose surnames start with the letters A to M will be allowed to leave home to purchase essentials between 10:00 am and 1:30 pm, while surnames N to Z are allowed to leave home for essentials from 1:30 pm to 5:00pm. All persons must carry identification and are advised to limit trips to one person per household.

“We expect you to pursue only the essentials. So I would advise that you go to the nearest point and return home immediately,” he cautioned.

Furthermore people with any type of flu-like or respiratory illness are being ordered not to leave home or go to work, and employers have a lawful duty to report any employee with such symptoms who turn up for work, and send them home, Holness advised.

“The objective of the lockdown is to slow, as much as possible, the spread of the virus. Of the 300 addresses [of the call centre workers] that we have already mapped, we are seeing where they cluster mainly in St Catherine and parts of Kingston and St Andrew. For Kingston and St Andrew we are doing further work. Once we can fully identify the clusters, then other actions will be taken. For St Catherine we know already that there is a massive cluster,” the prime minster explained.

He said the police will be manning entry and exit points to St Catherine and will be armed with forehead thermometers. Members of the essential services will only be allowed out of the parish if their temperature is normal, the are wearing a mask, have identification and do not have any flu-like symptoms. Temperatures will also be checked upon re-entry to the parish.

Meanwhile, the daily curfew of 9:00 pm to 5:00 am for the rest of the island remains in place.

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