(Jamaica Gleaner) – With Jamaica’s COVID-19 cases hitting another one-day record on Sunday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has decided to suspend his political road tour a week and a half before election day, September 3.
The confirmation of that decision came from Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton late Sunday evening, less than 24 hours after the country’s police chief, Antony Anderson, revealed he tested positive for the coronavirus.
“As of today, he is suspending his own campaign activities, meaning the traditional approach to campaigning and he certainly is going to be asking the country and his political organisation to abide by that approach.
“… That will send a strong message to the country that this is the responsible thing to do to mitigate against possible risks,” Tufton said.
It was not immediately clear if Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips would also suspend his road campaign.
The prime minister’s declaration comes amid an unprecedented surge of 116 new coronavirus cases, pushing the national tally to 1,529. Almost half of the new infections originated in Kingston and St Andrew, the epicentre of a new wave of transmission which has seen severe clustering, with more than a dozen communities under the radar.
Health workers have fanned out across Duhaney Park, Pembroke Hall and Patrick Gardens to cauterise the spread, which has been traced to Independence Day holiday events. Tighter curfews were imposed on all holidays since Easter, but Holness admitted last week that he relaxed the usual measure in August because the country was becoming fatigued.
Kingston and St Andrew accounted for 51 of Sunday’s cases, while St Catherine recorded 37. Ten new cases were confirmed in St Thomas, seven in Clarendon, four in Manchester, two each in St Ann and St Mary and one each in St Elizabeth, Hanover, and Westmoreland.
Five of the new cases were contacts of confirmed cases. One case was imported from the United Kingdom while 110 remain under investigation.
RESTING ON MORAL SUASION
Tufton told the nation during a press briefing on COVID-19 that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), as well as members independents and third political parties, have agreed that curtailing campaign activities could go a far way in lessening the spread of the virus.
However, it appears that those restrictions will rest on moral suasion and not compulsion through the Disaster Risk Management Act, the de facto coronavirus legislation.
Tufton said that he adjustments to campaign guidelines were decided on during a meeting with the political ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown, JLP General Secretary Horace Chang, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson, and the shadow spokesperson on health, Dr Morais Guy.
“There was a general view that we should move towards that, based on the numbers and the risk associated,” the health minister said.
“The issue is not just a self-imposed restriction. It certainly is characterised by consultations which the public health team normally weighs in on and provides advice. For now, the advice is that we should minimise the interactions without anyone feeling unfairly treated.”
The minister disclosed that as at 3 p.m. Sunday, 75 of the total capacity of 315 beds available for COVID-19 patients were occupied in hospitals across the island.