THE Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) is calling for a controlled lockdown of the country after another double-digit increase in the number of COVID-19 cases was reported yesterday.
The call was made by former chief medical officer and now PNP caretaker for St Catherine East Central Dr Winston De La Haye during a digital press conference yesterday.
It followed an earlier announcement by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton that Jamaica had recorded an additional 18 cases of COVID-19, pushing the tally to 143. The country has also recorded five deaths and 23 people have recovered from the virus.
According to De La Haye, the Government has found itself in an unstable position of chasing the virus, which has infected over two million people globally and killed thousands.
He added, too, that the Government’s failure to engage people trained to manage crises could further compound matters in the country at a time when community transmission of the virus is likely to surge.
“We need to move from chasing the virus to preventing infection. There is one way of doing that, and I’ll hasten to say as a public health official, it is clear to me that at this point we need to ensure, in an appropriate way, that we shut the country down.
“What’s going to happen is that we’ve started with St Catherine; next is likely to be Kingston and St Andrew, then another parish, and another moving around the mulberry bush. As obtained in Italy, the experience has been there… let’s not repeat those mistakes. Now is the time to make plans, adequate plans, not in the manner in the experiment of Tuesday night with St Catherine, adequate plans to shut the country down,” the consultant psychiatrist said.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has repeatedly emphasised, however, that a complete shutdown of the country, though not impossible, would prove detrimental to an economy on the verge of finding its footing.
“We cannot shut down the economy; this would create another type of crisis where people cannot access the goods and services they need,” Holness had said in March. “We are not placing a dollar value on life; every life is important, but for the Government to be effective in protecting your life we still need to have revenues. Cutting off economic activity lessens the ability of the Government to spend on increasing the capacity of the health care system. Government, therefore, has to balance carefully.”
But in a follow-up interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, De La Haye said, if the Government fails to enforce a shutdown now, the consequences will be catastrophic.
“There are two words for not shutting down now — dire straits. Now is the time. It’s very difficult to close a business for a month or more. It is even more difficult to close a casket on a dead loved one. In two days we’ve doubled our positive cases. So we’re now starting to see that exponential movement to a major peak in the country — what they call a surge. We don’t need to wait on it to happen more severely,” said the medical doctor.
At the same time, he cautioned against having a repeat of what transpired on Tuesday when the prime minister announced a shutdown of St Catherine, triggering what some termed a mass exodus of residents.
“There’s a way to do it. I don’t know everything, but I know the people who know. It’s many moving parts. I think the Government is struggling as anybody would. Get the people who can organise many moving parts. One group I know who would do that, and I know because I’ve worked with them for nine years, that’s the Jamaica Defence Force. Get them to have the command and control,” Dr De La Haye said.
“The Government needs to be more open, more inclusive. Get persons with knowledge in the specific areas to come in to assist. I am happy to assist because I see inappropriate decisions being made, and so that’s really where we find ourselves, where we need to come out of colour and allow persons to come to the table who are offering themselves to help and have the ability to help,” he told the Observer.
Yesterday, Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President Keith Duncan said if the Government decided to implement a total lockdown of the country the lobby group would support it.
“If the Government sees fit for a lockdown, and it would be for the best interest of the country, of course,” Duncan told the Observer.
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