A copy of the new Bail Act was tabled in the Parliament today by Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte.
A copy of the Act, which is to go before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, is posted below.
A copy of the new Bail Act was tabled in the Parliament today by Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte.
A copy of the Act, which is to go before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, is posted below.
UPDATE: TODAY (JUNE 22, 2022) IT HAS BEEN REPORTED THAT THE WRONG COPY OF THE SOE REGULATIONS WAS TABLED IN PARLIAMENT YESTERDAY. MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT HAVE BEEN CALLED TO A SPECIAL SITTING OF THE HOUSE TOMORROW FOR THE TABLING OF THE CORRECT REGULATIONS. SO THE REGULATIONS BELOW WILL BE REPLACED WITH THE CORRECT COPY.
Gleaner article: MPs called back to Parliament after gov’t tables wrong SOE regulations
(The Gleaner article download posted on blog 25-11-22)
Update – added on November 25, 2022
I am adding a copy of the correct regulations for this State of Emergency, for completion of the record for this blog post. The State of Emergency was not extended beyond the initial 14 days. I have also posted here a link to the PBCJ recording of the sitting of the House of Representatives on June 23, 2022 at which the correct Regulations were tabled and an explanation of the error was given by the Minister of National Security, Horace Chang.
The Emergency Powers (Parish of St Catherine) (No. 2) Regulations, 2022 were tabled in Parliament by Minister of National Security Horace Change this afternoon (June 21, 2022). These are the regulations now governing the State of Emergency declared last Friday, June 17, 2022.
In Parliament last week Thursday – March 17, 2022 – Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the end of the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) for the issuing of measures to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in Jamaica, after 2 years of use. This was generally expected and the Prime Minister indicated that while most measures, including the nightly curfews, would be ended outright, some would be kept in place via regulations under the Public Health Act. This includes the requirement to wear masks in certain enclosed indoor areas accessed by the public, which remains until April 15, 2022.
The Order ending the use of the DRMA, effective March 18, 2022, was displayed in Parliament but has not yet been posted online.
For completion, I am posting below the last 4 DRMA Orders, all issued in 2022. They are all posted on the Ministry of Justice website, though not all on the Office of the Prime Minister website.
Click here to view the PBCJ recording of PM Holness’ presentation in Parliament in which he spoke about ending the use of the DRMA to implement Covid-19 measures. The presentation was made during his Budget Debate presentation and begins about 37 minutes into the recording.
The Covid-19 pandemic use of the DRMA has come to an end and there is much worthy of detailed study and comment about it, including whether it was the appropriate method for the issuing of these measures for such an extended period of time; the amount of power it placed in the hands of the Prime Minister; how the issuing of the Orders was actually handled; the way in which the details of the Orders and gazetted copies were disseminated to the public and the scope of the measures contained in the Orders and the impact they had on life in Jamaica. It will be worth looking at what lessons, if any, have been learned for next time…whatever that next time turns out to be…
A week ago, on Sunday, January 9, 2022, Prime Minister Andrew Holness held a press conference to announce a Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) in Parade Gardens in Central Kingston because of the levels of violent crime occurring in the area. When the press conference had been called the evening before, many wondered if it was being called because of the increase in Covid-19 cases that was happening as the 4th wave picked up momentum.
During the question and answer period, Gleaner reporter Tenesha Mundle asked PM Holness this question:
“Are we planning to return to lockdowns and, if lockdowns are off the table, what other strategies will be implemented to halt the current Covid-19 wave?”
PM Holness replied:
“I wasn’t planning on turning this into a Covid Conversation. But I know there is great tension in the air. And what it says to me is that people are not listening to what I have said. I’ve been very clear, in Parliament, very clear, absolutely, gone overboard to say we are not going back to lockdowns. So, be calm! And I’ve said what the strategy is. It is now in your hands! Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy. We can’t hold you down and put the needle in your hand. If you get sick, you tek that responsibility. There is an option; we have vaccines all over the place. We have sites all over the place. I don’t hear one person complain that they can’t get the vaccine anywhere. Go and get vaccinated! Argument done!”
Argument done. Go and take the vaccine. That is the strategy.
In the week that followed, the situation has worsened:
During the week, the heads of regional health authorities and some hospitals were in the news detailing some of the challenges that were being experienced in the health system:
In a Jamaica Observer article on Thursday (January 13, 2022), – University hospital under pressure from Covid patients – Chief Executive Officer at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) was quoted commenting about the situation at the hospital:
Chief executive officer of UHWI Kevin Allen told the Jamaica Observer that the operations at the institution were becoming difficult as the fourth wave of the virus shapes up to wreak havoc. He reported that the system is further strained as roughly 90 nurses are at home, sick.
For patients and staff, Allen said the situation is “stressful, frustrating and difficult”. He encouraged staff to “hold it because the worst is yet to come”.
“We are putting systems in place and we are working to see how best we can ensure we hold it. We are not in breakdown days yet, but it is rough,” he said.
“The last report I have seen, we have some 90 nurses out of the system and that is crippling our operations. We have roughly 880 nurses and about 10 per cent have come down with the virus,” Allen added.
“We were already operating short with these skill sets, so to lose so many will impact on the quality of care. All the areas that we operate are full. The field hospitals are full, isolation is full, emergency is full with patients. We had to revert to using tents.”
On Friday (January 14, 2022), UHWI issued a press release notifying the public to expect delays at the hospital.
On Saturday (January 15, 2022), Minister Tufton posted a series of tweets about the situation at a number of hospitals he had visited, including Bustamante Hospital for Children, which was being affected by an increase in Covid-19 cases and reduced staff, due to infection and quarantine.
In an article in Loop News that same day – Covid Surge: Highest number of paediatric cases at Bustamante hospital – Senior Medical Officer, Dr Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson was quoted as saying:
“We are currently in the fourth wave of the pandemic. We have been through three before but this one is different. The pace at which people are getting infected and symptomatic is alarming and therefore it is important that we vaccinate to protect ourselves and our loved ones”.
The Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) issued a release expressing their concerns about the current situation…
…which was endorsed today by the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ)…
So with this and more having occurred in the last week, many people wondered if Covid-19 would be on the agenda of the Office of the Prime Minister press conference announced last night. However, it wasn’t.
This morning, PM Holness told the country that a ZOSO had been declared for some sections of Westmoreland, which has been plagued by violent crime. At the end of the press conference, the ususal question and answer segment took place. The final question was asked by Ricardo Brooks of Nationwide News Network.
Ricardo Brooks: Good morning, Prime Minister. The country’s positivity rate has topped 60% and hospitalization, the situation there is deteriorating. Do you still hold to the point that “Argument done”?
The Prime Minister answered: You have said it. Thank you!
That was all. And then the press conference ended.
At the point we are at in the 4th wave, this is not an adequate or appropriate response from Jamaica’s Prime Minister. We are told that the peak of the wave is not expected for another two or more weeks. The health care system is already on the verge of being overwhelmed by the increased number of cases and the staff shortages. The strategy that PM Holness offered last week – “Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy.” – will not slow this current surge. He may feel he has spoken enough; he may feel frustrated; he may have had another appointment to go to. But this was a national press conference he called, to talk about another issue, yes. But he must have expected that he would be questioned about the Covid-19 situation and it would have been good if he had used the opportunity, on a Sunday morning, to have said something more useful.
Yesterday evening (December 15, 2021), the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) held its first Covid Conversation press conference in nearly two months; the last one was held on October 26, 2021. This morning, Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters, chaired by Minister Tufton, met for the first time since July 20, 2021, five months ago. (If they’ve met more recently than that, I would stand corrected.) After months of these events not being held, two within 24-hours. That signals a level of concern about what is likely to be happening with Covid come the new year and a desire to signal this concern before the news and information lull that comes with the Christmas holidays.
We are right now in a comparatively good place regarding Covid-19 in Jamaica. Today National Epidemiologist Dr Webster-Kerr noted that for the first time in months the 7-Day Average for our Positivity Rate is below 5%. It is 4.9%.
She also said that we have now come out of our 3rd wave, which peaked in September, and that we are in what could be considered an inter-wave period. The number of confirmed cases has been coming down steadily, though there might be a little leveling off, she said.
Additionally, the pressure on hospitals at this time is not from Covid-19 patients, with all four of the health regions being well below 50% of their Covid-19 related capacity.
In almost all of the Covid-19 indicators, we have been moving in the right direction. Dr Webster-Kerr said:
“This is the picture. It’s looking good at this time but we have to be careful, in that for most of the indicators we are above where we were in between the 2nd and 3rd waves. So we can still increase rapidly, if we are going into the 4th wave.”
She did also note that the vaccination level is too low to have an effect on transmission, though it is having an effect on severe disease and deaths.
For weeks we have had warnings from many quarters, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, various medical bodies, individual doctors, epidemiology and public health experts, that we should expect a 4th wave, most likely starting in January. The identification of the new Omicron variant in late November has made this likelihood more of an inevitability.
The warnings were repeated at both the Covid Conversation yesterday and at the Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting today. The holding of the two meetings in such quick succession signals the level of concern that there is about the 4th wave and the need to give the country an update before Christmas, with its associated activities that are likely to contribute to that wave.
In the discussion about the Omicron variant at the JSC today, Minister Tufton said:
“I would venture to say, and at the risk of appearing to be an alarmist, that’s not my intention, but I would venture to say, given what we know of this season and the interactions that are likely to take place, cross border interactions, whether diaspora or tourism related, it is highly likely that if the virus isn’t here already, it is highly likely that it will be here after the holiday season. And I think we have to be frank about this, I think we have to make it clear to the country, which is why we have continued to emphasize the wearing of the mask, physical distancing, the observation of the protocols around gatherings and indeed, where one is in doubt because they have symptoms or feel exposed, they should get tested. It is part of the preparation for the 4th wave because we do not believe that we, as an open society where we depend whether on trade or travel in one form or another, that it is going to be a permanent situation to keep the variant out. It’s just not practical. And I suspect the holiday season will only serve to add a greater risk or probability of that happening.”
So two events in 24 hours. After months without them. With everyone on the verge of pivoting to Christmas and year end activities. Let it not be said, however, that the year ended without these two mechanisms being resurrected to warn about the 4th wave and update about the preparations for same.
PBCJ Recording of Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters, December 16, 2021
In Parliament last week Tuesday, November 30, 2021, Minister of Health and Wellness Chris Tufton made a statement in Parliament about the current situation regarding Covid-19 in Jamaica.
One of the questions put to him following his statement was from MP Julian Robinson:
“Minister, I just have one question and really recommendation. As we move forward to reopening schools, I believe it is imperative that we allow and provide testing in the schools. What is going to happen without testing in the schools, when the children get sick, their parents can’t afford the significant fees to privately test them. They’re going to keep sending them to school because they don’t have either the support at home to keep them at home. So gonna have sick children continue to go to school. It might mean doing the antigen test which is cheaper than the PCR test. But as we move to reopen the schools, we must have some capacity particularly in larger schools. I mean Excelsior in my constituency is 2200 students, right? You’re bound to have sick children infecting others and right now it is too difficult, it is too expensive, for persons to get tested.”MP Julian Robinson, Parliament, November 30, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)
Minister Tufton responded:
“So, Madam Speaker, I think it’s a…there’s no difference of opinion there. The reality is that the school population is going to be a point of vulnerability, not so much, to be totally frank, for the students, who could weather the storm, so to speak, in terms of the virus, because they are stronger, stronger immune systems, but more so for those they take it home to. Their parents and grandparents. And we still have a large unvaccinated population among that older age cohort. Which is why we have to pursue a dual strategy – promote vaccination among the older population and offer protection to our young people to get to face-to-face.
Testing will be available based on an assessment of conditions or symptoms and I am prepared to ask too for some amount of random testing as part of sort of just sampling a population. And I think that can be easily organised because contrary to popular opinion that I have seen on social media and so on, the government provides free testing. I do appreciate that you can’t just go and request it because it is given based on a doctor’s assessment. Now where a school has a sick bay or otherwise – because we’re always in touch with the schools, we’re putting protocols in place – and a child displays the slightest symptom, then they’ll be automatically tested and a conclusion drawn in order to protect the rest of the population. So, I’m with you on that.”
Thank you, Madam Speaker.Minister Chris Tufton, Parliament, November 30, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)
So Minister Tufton says that testing will be done on children who are symptomatic, though it is known that many people who have Covid-19 are asymptomatic. No mention is made of rigorous testing protocols in schools where a child has tested positive or where a child has been exposed to Covid-19 in a setting other than school. What level of contact tracing will be done where a child does test positive? And what notification protocols are in place to inform other students, parents/families and staff when there has been a confirmed or suspected case in a school? And what level of testing is meant by “some amount of random testing as part of sort of just sampling a population”? Perhaps Minister Tufton could be more specific.
In Parliament on that same day, Minister of Education Fayval Williams delivered a statement dealing with the expansion of face-to-face classes in more schools. Below is a copy of the text of her statement:
Also, here is the link to the PBCJ recording of the sitting of Parliament that day – November 30, 2021.
One of the communication tools the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has used during the pandemic to share information with the public is the press conferences dubbed Covid Conversations. For some periods, these Conversations took place routinely on Thursday evenings and included an epidemiological update on the Covid situation in Jamaica, with slides, presented by the Chief Medical Officer or the National Epidemiologist. Aspects of policy and administration would be dealt with and current issues that had recently arisen. Importantly, it was also an opportunity for members of the media to ask questions of MOHW representatives, including the Minister and Permanent Secretary, and have them answered on the record. And the PBCJ recordings of these events have provided a very useful archive for tracking aspects of the pandemic and the MOHW’s approach.
In more recent months, however, these Covid Conversations have been held less frequently, as I and fellow blogger Emma Lewis have commented on on Twitter:
It isn’t that the Minister or the CMO or the Director of Family Health Services are not accessible to the media. They certainly do interviews on various radio programmes. However, these are not archived in the way that the PBCJ recordings are and quickly become inaccessible to the public and they certainly won’t be available via Access to Information requests. And when the Minister speaks in Parliament, members of the media don’t get to ask him questions there.
The last Covid Conversation was held on the morning of Tuesday, October 26, 2021, an unusual day and time, as the Minister himself commented. That’s 4 weeks ago today. There has been no Covid Conversation in November. Why not? Has MOHW decided that these convos are no longer useful? If so, what is the strategy being used to replace them or to provide other means for the sharing of the information they provided and the regular opportunity to have questions asked and answered? Or is it that there’s nothing new to share or to answer questions about? Covid’s over?
Maybe this Thursday we’ll have another Covid Conversation…or maybe not…
During his statement in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 16, 2021), while announcing changes to the Covid-19 measures, PM Andrew Holness briefly mentioned cases of children with possible exposure to Covid-19 and how this was dealt with by schools.
Speaking about the country as a whole, he said:
“We are being very cautious in reopening and, just to be clear, we are not going to shut down again.”
He then went on to say:
“So, Madam Speaker, we have reopened our schools. We have seen cases reported of a possible exposure to Covid-19. We haven’t shut them when they have opened. We tell them to sanitise, clean up, isolate the child, keep them at home. But we are not going to close the schools again.”
These cases referred to by the Prime Minister – of possible Covid exposure in children in schools – haven’t been reported in the media nor to general public by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) or by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW). In his statement, PM Holness gave no other information about these cases…what schools or parishes they occurred in, when they occurred or how many children or schools were affected, for example.
Other questions needing answers include:
And a more general question needs to be asked about what exactly the protocol is when schools have a child in attendance who was possibly exposed to Covid-19, beyond what PM Holness mentioned…”We tell them to sanitize, clean up, isolate the child, keep them at home.”
There is very little specific information in the MOEYI’s Manual for the Reopening of Educational Institutions – Version 3, August 2021 on how suspected/confirmed cases of Covid-19 in students or staff are to be dealt with. And there is no mention of testing. Perhaps it is set out in detail elsewhere. It would be good to know.
A few months ago, as the media reported on the surge of Covid cases caused by the Delta variant in first the UK and then the USA, some of us in Jamaica began asking whether the variant was present in Jamaica. There is a great deal of travel to Jamaica from these two countries – residents, members of the diaspora, tourists – and it seemed only a matter of time before we got cases of the Delta variant here. Was testing being done for the variant by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and, if so, what had been found?
Responding to a question at the MOHW Covid-19 press conference on July 1, 2021, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said the following:
This left me hopeful that, despite previous problems that had affected testing for variants, there was now a new system in place that would mean faster results that could help to inform government decisions and responses and help the public to better understand what we were facing. The time lag was still not optimal, but seemed better until we had the equipment needed to do genomic sequencing here.
However, there seemed to be a delay in the hoped for two week turnaround time for the results from PAHO and in a presentation on July 20, 2021, at the Joint Select Committee of Parliament dealing with Covid-19 and related matters, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr included this slide:
It showed that results had been received for samples sent to the CDC, but that no results had at that time been received for the samples sent to PAHO.
(I wrote about that presentation in Parliament in a post I made on July 22, 2021 – On the Verge of a Third Wave? – Jamaica’s Current Covid-19 Situation.)
And to date we have not had any clear update on what has happened regarding those and any other subsequent samples sent to any of the three labs for genomic sequencing. The most we have heard is comments during various media interviews or at press briefings that we are still awaiting results from overseas partners. And that there is no confirmation through testing that the Delta variant is here, but that from other indicators we can assume that it is.
At the press briefing on Monday, August 9, 2021, held to announce the latest changes to the Covid restriction measures, Minister Tufton said, in response to a question from Jamila Maitland about test results and the Delta variant:
It is now nearly six weeks since Dr Bisasor-McKenzie outlined the new arrangements for genomic sequencing testing and it is three weeks since the presentation and discussion at the Covid Joint Select Committee in Parliament. We really need a clear update on what has happened with the new arrangements and why it is that we haven’t seen any further results other than the CDC results shown on July 20.
I assume that the MOHW will be holding a press briefing on Thursday and that would be an appropriate opportunity for a full update. Some questions I would hope to hear answered would be:
The 3rd and 4th Quarterly Reports of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) were tabled in Parliament today. The former contains a Special Report on the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre, one of the four juvenile correctional and remand centres operated by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). This report raises a number of serious concerns about the treatment and well-being of the children in State custody at that facility, as well as the effectiveness of oversight mechanisms that are supposed to protect those children.
I am posting copies of the two reports tonight. I will write more in days ahead.