KINGSTON –The Government yesterday gave its first clear indication that it is inching towards reopening the country, with the restarting of the tourism sector.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness told a virtual press conference at Jamaica House that portfolio minister Edmund Bartlett had yesterday presented Cabinet with far-advanced protocols for the reopening of the tourism industry, which has been shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“With the closure of the global tourism industry, we had no choice here but to close our hotels, but we must be prepared for the day when we reopen. We will not allow the crisis to cripple us to the point where we don’t take preparatory action. We have to be timing [it] very carefully, because other countries are going to reopen and people are going to travel, and Jamaica must be the number one destination for travel — that is how we recover stronger from crisis,” he stated, pointing out that other countries have already begun to prepare their own protocols.
Last night, after the news conference a highly placed Government source confirmed to the Jamaica Observer that, after lively discussion over the past few days, the reopening of the island’s tourism sector was imminent.
“There is a realisation that there can be no unnecessary delay. All the health matters were discussed, rationalised, and all the important strategies to keep flattening and reducing the curve to protect the health of Jamaicans have been strengthened,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“There is also an acceptance that business has got to resume fully, because people are at home without money, people who had good jobs are now unemployed, and this has gone on too long. So, like any good Government, we’ve got to be able to do many things at one time,” added the source.
Holness, in is remarks at the news conference, had said the Government was ensuring that health protocols are strong enough to mitigate any risks presented by reopening the country to visitors.
“We have not given a date yet… Whatever protocols are finally decided upon, as we have done with all the others, we will go into public discourse, then we will start with a trial phase, and then with a final reopening once we have ironed out all the issues. So, yes, the Government is contemplating the reopening of the tourism sector,” the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, some Jamaicans also welcomed the announcement that bars will be allowed to carry on their business for a 14-day trial period, starting May 19.
Churches, too, have been given some leeway over the next two weeks to have services under equally tight restrictions.
“We will try the measures for two weeks, we will observe how faithfully they’re being implemented, and if it works, then we will have them as a permanent feature in the gazette,” Holness said.
Outlining the protocol for the reopening of community bars, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said that bar owners will be advised today that opening will be allowed from 11:00 am as of May 19.
“During that period, we will assess the operations of these bars,” he said.
Social and physical distancing must be maintained, with no more than five individuals, including the bartender, allowed inside these establishments at any one time, while all seating arrangements outside the bar must be six feet apart.
No stools, benches, chairs, or tables are allowed inside bars, and popular pastimes among drinkers — such as dominoes — are also not allowed during the period. Gaming machines are to be six feet apart, and no events promoting social gathering, such as round robins, can be held. Also, doors and window must remain open during operating hours.
Asked about the recommendation for patrons and workers in bars to wear masks, Holness said, while he understood the concern, each person must find means to act responsibly.
Bars are also required to maintain sanitation protocols, which are to be issued by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. McKenzie said the police, Social Development Commission, and Ministry of Health will conduct inspections to ensure that all the protocols are observed.
“We are going to ask operators to ensure that they comply, because failure to make the system work will probably prevent us extending the period of operation for the bars,” he said.
At the same time, the local government minister said all bar operators are being urged to become registered and that arrangements will be made for all municipal offices to facilitate this process.
The allowance for church service comes following a meeting between the prime minister and church leaders on Friday.
Churches are allowed to resume with strict observation of the social distancing rules, which Holness said include congregants being arm’s-length apart, or one person per 40 square feet.
“This will determine the number of persons that will be in the church space at any one time… that would ensure that if you were in a church hall of a thousand square feet, that you would have just over 20 persons within the hall,” he outlined.
Churches will also be required to do temperature checks of worshippers on entry, and are asked to shorten the length of services, and in instances where more than one service is held measures must be in place to ensure that they do not overlap.
Worshippers must also wear masks and a choir cannot be assembled during the period. Churches are also urged to suspend other rituals and practices which require close contact. Holness stressed that the social distancing rules also apply to other church spaces, such as the churchyard and vestry.
The churches have been asked to put in place a sanitisation programme.
“I know that the church is eager to get back to the normal way of worship, but we have to be cautious in how we do this,” the prime minister said.
He noted also that protocols will be considered for the racing industry and the quick service food industry, as it relates to dining at restaurants.
“The reopening of the bars should not be interpreted to mean in-restaurant dining, they can still continue with their takeout and delivery,” he said of bars which have corner shops or other food service businesses attached.
Jamaica has so far recorded 505 cases of COVID-19, with 90 recoveries and nine deaths.
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