(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Approximately 500,000 students are facing the prospect of being out of school as the island’s educational institutions were yesterday put on notice that they could be closed, following the announcement of the second imported case of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) here.
A non-Jamaican who arrived in the island from the United Kingdom (UK) was confirmed with the virus by health authorities, yesterday.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, at an emergency press conference at Jamaica House yesterday, urged Jamaicans not to panic, and to follow the advice issued by health professionals on how to protect themselves from the virus. He again stressed that COVID-19 is not a death sentence, but people must follow the recommended procedures to prevent its spread.
Holness said Cabinet has approved a protocol for the closure of all schools but that the institutions have not yet received a directive, as there is still need for further consultation.
However, he said this “consultation” was more a matter of notifying all involved, such as parents, to give everyone time to make necessary arrangements.
Additionally, further decisions are to be made around the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) and CSEC examinations, the prime minister said. He said the Government endorses and supports the actions of those tertiary educational institutions which have already taken the decision to suspend classes.
At the same time, minister in charge of education Karl Samuda told the Jamaica Observer that the ministry is hoping that schools will not have to be closed, but that if the decision is taken then all institutions, including day-care centres, would be affected.
He said that schools are a “great avenue for the spread of this virus [and] it is a risk that we ought not to take, once it is determined that the virus is transmitted locally. That is not now the case so we are taking all necessary precautions to prepare ourselves for this eventuality, should it occur. This time will allow for the parents to prepare themselves, and to accommodate the children during the school hours and we will be communicating with the students, via television,” Samuda said, noting that a major television broadcasting company has agreed to partner with the Government on this, and that mobile phone communication and other measures will also be employed.
“It’s not the most ideal but it is something that we will have to employ, should it become necessary,” Samuda said.
Meanwhile, the UK could join the list of countries for which Jamaica has issued travel restrictions, the prime minister indicated. “Cabinet spent an extensive period of time discussing travel restrictions related to the United Kingdom, and the Government is actively reviewing the extent of travel restrictions related to the UK. In short order we will be saying some more on that; there are several considerations [as] it is something that is of great concern to us now. But we don’t want to act in a premature way, we don’t want to act without contemplating all the issues,” he stated.
Holness issued a strong warning to people travelling to Jamaica from countries which have an increasing infection rate, and travelling to those countries from Jamaica, to desist at this time.
He said the Government is leading by example, with suspension of ministerial approval for non-essential travel by Government officials, and that the entire public service is being similarly advised. “In fact, it must be dire emergency for my pen to go on the paper to say approved for travel. The Cabinet secretary has also been informed,” he stated.
Additionally, the prime minister said, municipal councils and the police have been instructed not to issue any permits for events for the next 14 days, and those which have already been granted are to be revoked. He also called on the civic conscience of private entities, including churches, to bear the risks in mind at this time, and to use other means of congregating where possible.
He said, based on the plan which the Government has in place and its response so far, “we have been handling this crisis fairly well”. He also assured that the funds which have been set aside to handle the crisis will be used to ensure that Jamaica recovers rapidly, and that the country can be cushioned from the fallout: “We are not about to squander it,” he stressed.
He said the Government has been following the standard protocols issued by the World Health Organisation to handle the pandemic, and in some instances has gone above those requirements, to protect public health and safety.