WITH the loss of tourism revenue to the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett thinks the Government has made the best decision possible to keep the economy afloat.
He said that exempting the construction and agriculture/fisheries industries from the curfew restrictions is not only crucial, in terms of employment and production, but will also help to protect the country from the threat of an invasive border that could further accelerate the spread of the new coronavirus.
“Anything that can be done now to generate domestic employment and so on is fine. With construction, all you need is the money to import the inputs, and with fishery, it is two or so fishermen going to sea to catch fish and return home. There is no human cargo to be concerned about,” the tourism minister said.
He said that it should also be borne in mind that the vector is human, and there is the ability to practise social distancing in both areas, as well as in farming, as they can provide a welcome opportunity to get the economy ready for the post COVID-19 economy recovery.
Bartlett, who has watched his success with tourism dwindle before his eyes as the number of COVID-19 cases climbed towards the 400 mark, closing down hotels and reducing direct employment in the industry by close to 80 per cent, made the judgement in an interview with the Jamaica Observer Wednesday.
It follows Tuesday night’s revelation by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the construction and fishing/agriculture industries were being exempted from the provisions of the Disaster Risk Management Order, which currently has nightly curfews restricting movement across the country between 6:00 pm and 6:00 am.
Holness told the House of Representatives Tuesday night that the construction sector, for example, was an area where economic activity has to be allowed to resume as soon as possible. He said that the sector is one that needs to become a focus, as it is an area where projects can get going as quickly as possible.
He said, too, that the exemption of the industry from the stay-at-home demands of the Disaster Risk Management Order, means that those connected to it will be able to resume their normal activities on condition that they conform with the rules to suppress the spread of the virus.
“I need to emphasise that the contractors and the employers have a duty, under the Disaster Risk Management Order, that if they see someone on the site who is ill, especially with symptoms [that] are flu-like or respiratory symptoms, they should send them home,” he noted.
He said that, in order to do this, the contractors will have to put in place a detection mechanism to ensure that the workers coming onto the site are not coming in with the symptoms.
“I have directed all relevant agencies to carefully examine and assess their suite of projects, in particular those that are close to shovel ready, with the aim of prioritising projects that are best aligned with the economic recovery plan,” Holness said.
He said, however, that approval of any such project must be subject to the new supplementary estimates for 2020/21, which are expected to be tabled in the House of Representatives in another fortnight.
He stated that the general health rules will remain in place, including the wearing of masks and social distancing. However, gatherings on the construction sites will not be limited.
He said that special provisions will have to be made for agriculture and fishing. However, the prime minister said that the Government will face a challenge that anyone can claim to be a farmer or fisherman. He noted that fishermen will have to be registered through the cooperatives.
“We are going to formalise the process of registration for their exemption. Through their cooperatives, they will get their exemption forms,” he stated.
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