Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness has signaled his intention to further relax the island’s curfew and other COVID-19 measures in the coming months.
For the last few months, Holness has been urging Jamaicans to take personal responsibility to protect themselves from the virus by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in public spaces, and staying home if sick. He has also been adamant that the government will not be reverting to lockdowns as it looks to return the country to normality.
While addressing business leaders at the Jamaica Stock Exchange Conference on January 25, the Prime Minister again called on Jamaicans to accept that the country, like the rest of the world, must learn to live with the coronavirus.
“Our society must adapt to living with COVID-19. Almost two years into the pandemic, we have both the knowledge and the means to protect ourselves. Citizens have access to enough reliable information and resources to access their health and risks as well as their economic circumstances and make their own decisions,” Holness said.
The Prime Minister also put the country on notice that some of the existing COVID-19 measures will soon end, barring any extreme spike in cases. He stated that at this stage in the pandemic, the government could not afford the restrictions to impede economic recovery.
“It is no longer appropriate or necessary for the government to use crude, blanket measures such as lockdowns to shield the population from the virus. These restrictions are designed to restrict movement but ultimately put a stranglehold on economic and social activity. They keep our children out of school. They have a devastating impact on livelihoods and have severe psycho-social impacts. Therefore, barring any extreme change in circumstances, our approach will be to gradually scale back the measures once we get out of the fourth wave that we are now experiencing. We will not keep the measures longer than is necessary,” Holness explained.
The island currently has a 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew in place. Spectators have been prohibited from attending various sporting events, and other major social events, like concerts, are also banned.
Albeit the restrictions, Jamaica is still in the midst of a massive fourth wave of COVID-19, which saw a one-day record of 1,968 new cases at its peak on January 16.
The country also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the Caribbean, with just 22 percent of the population fully vaccinated. When the Ministry of Health and Wellness launched the vaccination campaign in 2021, the goal was to have 65 percent of the population immunized by March 2022.
While the target is unlikely to be met, Prime Minister Holness said the government is still planning to move forward.
“If it is that our vaccination rates don’t rise to the level where we can be guaranteed herd immunity, then the government can only help our citizens by providing information and encouraging them to get vaccinated. But we cannot keep our economy under restrictions. I’m saying this to prepare both the business community and society generally that in the coming months, we will have to take down more of the restrictions that are in place,” he stated.
Prime Minister Holness said Jamaicans should start visualizing the end of the Disaster Risk Management Act and the various COVID-19 protocols and restrictions that it underpins.