There is growing opposition among some business operators to talk within Government circles that the Cabinet will today extend the lockdown in St Catherine and extend the measure to other parts of the island.
Calls for an islandwide lockdown gained strength yesterday as the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) increased by 23 to 196.
Objections to the lockdown mounted on the weekend after the chaotic scenes in St Catherine of residents trying to shop for food and other essentials in the limited shopping hours allotted by the Government in its attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.
At the same time, there are reports of a split in the Cabinet on the matter with concern that a lockdown could have a devastating effect on economy
“It’s not just us as business owners who are worried; our employees, who are now out of work, are having a hard time surviving,” one business owner, who opted for anonymity, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
A small business operator who also spoke with the Observer said while she recognised the need to bring the spread of the novel coronavirus under control, that was not achieved with the St Catherine lockdown. “In fact, we saw more cases during that time,” she argued.
“The situation with the call centre should not have come as a surprise, because if the Ministry of Health was doing its job they would have known that this wild card existed and they should have shut down the company before anything happened,” she said.
On Saturday, during a visit to St Catherine, Prime Minister Andrew Holness stopped just short of announcing that the parish would remain under lockdown after the initial seven-day period ends on Wednesday. However, he did not comment on the reports in Government circles that with the number of COVID-19 cases climbing sharply to 196 in recent days an all-island shutdown is inevitable.
Without addressing the issue up front on Saturday, Holness pointed to the issues associated with a lockdown.
“I think the people will understand that the Government is listening to get the feedback, and we try to create the orders, given the peculiarities of our society. A significant percentage of Jamaicans live from day to day. So they earn today and they spend today, and they don’t have enough savings to convert that to stocks of food supplies that they can keep in their house,” he said.
“They have to literally buy at the lowest block of retail, so that creates its own idiosyncratic developments for us, so we have to manage that part of it very carefully. And whatever we do in putting in these control measures we have to be sensitive to the needs of the people,” declared Holness.
“Most people understand that there is an epidemic, they understand why we have to put the measures in. Their concern is, ‘Am I going to go home hungry?’, and that has to be addressed,” declared Holness as he noted that access to shops was the major complaint he heard during a tour of sections of St Catherine on Saturday evening.
“So we might give them more time to shop, and that might mean an additional day,” added Holness as he left little doubt that the Government will continue to use the lockdown of communities as a major weapon in its attempt to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Holness said during his tour of Spanish Town and Portmore it was clear that the number of people shopping in the major commercial districts in St Catherine was overwhelming.
“Because normally you would have had persons leaving Portmore to shop in Kingston, or would have shopped already in Kingston, in addition to persons taking precautions to stock up, so there was a greater than normal demand today [Saturday] and Wednesday.
“We expect this to moderate as the measure is extended and people have adjusted,” Holness added while announcing that the adjustments should be announced today.
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