Visitors to beaches and rivers are being urged to adhere to the safety protocols that have been put in place to contain the local spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
This call comes from Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, who warned that the conditional reopening of rivers and beaches that was granted by the Government may not be extended “unless we get full compliance with the protocols”.
In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday (June 23), Mr. McKenzie lamented “the wanton disregard for the protocols that have been laid down, by large numbers of persons visiting these locations”.
“I want to urge the operators of the beaches and rivers to strictly enforce the protocols. I want to urge the citizens who are going to these locations to be responsible in the manner in which they operate,” he said.
“COVID-19 is not over. There is no room for complacency; there is no room for us to become irresponsible in our personal conduct in pursuit of leisure,” he added.
The safety protocols were put in place in tandem with the conditional resumption of general access to public beaches and rivers on June 7. The reopening, which was for an initial period of 14 days, has since been extended to June 30.
However, it is the results of an assessment of public compliance with the established protocols that will determine whether the resumption period will be prolonged.
These protocols include physical distancing of six feet, the wearing of masks, and ensuring that no more than 10 persons at any time should gather in one area of these public facilities.
In addition, operators are not allowed to provide any form of seating, though persons visiting the beach can take their personal chairs.
Also, no seating is to be provided for dining and vendors are not permitted to walk the properties with items for sale.
Sports, such as football, volleyball and dominoes, and the holding of parties, are not allowed at the venues.
Mr. McKenzie told the House that the Social Development Commission (SDC) has observed activities at 58 beaches and 65 rivers over the last two weeks since the reopening of these attractions, and “what we are seeing is creating a lot of discomfort and is cause for concern”.
Citing specific examples of the breaches, Minister McKenzie pointed out that at the locations visited in St. Elizabeth it was observed that none of the protocols were being observed.
“We noticed that dominoes, gambling [and] drinking [were] taking place. People [were seen] without masks, social distancing was not observed. We visited one location at Alligator Pond river where over 700 persons were observed in one area, and at Alligator Pond beach, over 300 [persons were seen],” he said.
He said that more than 300 persons were gathered at Turtle River Park beach and Little Dunn’s River in St. Ann, while Hellshire beach in St. Catherine was packed.
“Most rivers have been taken over [with] horseback riding, music playing, and we observed at Alligator Pond, Little Dunn’s River, Calypso River, Roaring River, Blue Hole, Spanish River, just to name a few… that overcrowding is taking place and little regard for the health protocols that have been laid down is being observed,” he said.
Minister McKenzie warned that there will be increased monitoring and reporting of activities at all beaches and rivers.
“We are going to be using this weekend, starting [June 24] to have another look at what is taking place in these locations… . It is not right that despite the best efforts of the Government to ensure that these activities become available… we are not getting the kind of support that is required to ensure the safety of people’s lives at these locations,” he said.
Turning to the operations of sports bars, nightclubs and places of amusement, Mr. McKenzie told the House that the protocols have also been ignored.
“We notice that there are several parties that are taking place in sports bars [and] nightclubs without the requisite approval from the Municipal Corporations [and] without an order being made for the opening of these activities.
“Those who continue to violate the protocols are putting… the reopening in danger because of their attitude in this regard,” he warned.
Mr. McKenzie, however, commended the operators of the small community bars and taverns “who have been faithful” in adhering to the protocols.
“Even up to this week, when the visit was done, they are making every effort to work within the framework,” he said.
The Minister stressed that the protection of public health remains of paramount importance as the Government begins the process of restoring economic and social life in the safest way possible.