Jamaica recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 10, 2020. That case involved a female who traveled to the island from the United Kingdom, to attend a funeral.
Since then special orders were announced under the Disaster Risk Management Act, 2015 in addition to the closure of the island’s borders to incoming passenger traffic, in a bid to contain and prevent further spread of the virus. These containment and prevention measures were in line with established practices worldwide.
That was approximately 11 weeks ago and since then the economic impact of these measures has been significant. With a fragile economy just recovering from years of chronic underperformance, the downturn in commercial activity could not have been more inopportune.
Faced with a rising clamor from micro-enterprises in concert with corporate businesses, urging the government to relax the special orders made under the Emergency Risk Management Act, the government of Jamaica has relented. The need to stimulate the economy has been weighed against the need to contain and prevent the spread of the virus, and a balance seemingly struck. To his credit, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, has consistently maintained, since the advent of the pandemic in Jamaica, that this is a balance that must be found.
The first indication of relaxation of these orders was that places of worship would be allowed more than the stipulated limit of10 persons for social gatherings, with strict adherence to physical distancing, temperature checks, face masks, and sanitization measures required.
Next came the reopening of community bars and taverns, for an initial two week trial period, with similarly strict measures inclusive of face masks. This made for widespread satire as the issue of facemasks whilst drinking became a hot topic. Thus far, in true Jamaican fashion, a workaround to the situation was found and the bars have been allowed to stay open beyond the initial trial period. Sports bars, nightclubs, and other places of amusement that serve alcoholic beverages are still closed. The Prime Minister has announced that he is reviewing the orders in place for these establishments and an announcement is expected soon.
The stay at home orders previously announced by the Prime Minister has expired and employees tentatively made their way back to their various places of employment as of June 1, 2020. The work from home measures that were adopted during the period of ‘lockdown’ seems to be continuing in many establishments as a “new normal” emerges.
Tourism, the sector which offers employment for more than 300,000 Jamaicans, is eagerly anticipating June 15, 2020, when it will emerge from its coronavirus induced slumber and welcome visitors back to the island. Reports from various hotels and travel agencies suggest that they have been able to retain approximately 50% of their pre-COVID 19 bookings for the summer period. In this period of preparation, hoteliers are paying special attention to the measures that will be implemented to guard against any potential ‘second wave’ of infections that could potentially arise with an anticipated influx of visitors, some of whom may be traveling from countries where the rate of new infections have not yet been brought under control.
With the various measures implemented in a bid to revive a flagging economy, Jamaica waits with bated breath to see just how effective and safe these reopening measures prove to be.