Saturday 28 November, 2020

Holness rejects claims that he prioritised politics over public health

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (file photo)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (file photo)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has brushed aside suggestion that he prioritised politics and the calling of the general elections over the health of Jamaicans.

The suggestions were raised in Saturday night’s final encounter of the 2020 series of National Political Debates, relative to Holness’s decision to call the elections amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in early August.

Additionally, the PM has been slammed by some social media users and political commentators for campaigning across the country, which attracted large crowds.

And at Saturday afternoon, Jamaica's COVID-19 spike continued, with one new death being reported, along with 102 new cases, by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, bringing the total number of cases to 2,113.

Of the total cases, 1,131 are active, while 890 persons have recovered from the virus.

When asked amid the debate if he deserved to be prime minister, given that at such a critical time for the country, ‘he chose to prioritise politics over public health’, Holness responded that "We (the Government) would never do anything to place the lives of Jamaicans at risk".

In defending his decision to call the elections, he said "The pandemic will only end when there is a safe and widely distributed vaccine. This may be between a year-and-a-half to two years, according to some experts. This would be well outside the constitutional limits to call an election."

Holness further said "Jamaica is still considered to be one of the countries that has managed the pandemic extremely well. And in fact, we have one of the lowest mortality rates across the world, per capita."

But while offering his condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones to the novel virus, Holness said spikes in the virus are to be expected.

"We should note, however, that the definition of a pandemic is that there will be spikes. Indeed, even the countries that have sought to have strict lockdown for a long time, for example, New Zealand, they have had a spike."

Meanwhile, Holnes also revealed that Jamaica is not the only country to have gone ahead with elections during the pandemic, and suggested that people need to move on with their lives.

"What we (the Government) have learnt from the last four or five months in managing the pandemic is that we must go on with our society. We must go on with our economy. We must go on with going back to school... We must move on with our society," he said.

But Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, blasted the Government for the handling of the recent spike, describing as "most disturbing" the "disregard that has been given (by the Government) to the scientific advice of the medical personnel."

He stated that "In the period of the emancipendence celebrations, the recommendation was made that there should be a tightening of the arrangements; the curfew arrangements and the other (COVID-related) arrangements. That was ignored. 

Dr Peter Phillips (file photo)

"The consequence has been devastating on the people of Jamaica. Yes, there will be a pandemic, but there is no need to ignore proper advice. There is no need to ignore common sense, and there is every need to protect the people of the country," Phillips added.

In a follow-up question, journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller asked Holness whether he thought that campaigning in the way he did, facilitated the spread of the virus.

"Absolutely not," responded Holness.

"Indeed, what I did as prime minister, I acquired half, well over 500,000 masks, and I distributed over 80,000 masks wherever I went. I made sure to play a public service announcement giving directions to persons on how they should operate, and how they should behave."

In responding to Philip's earlier comment regarding disregard for scientific advice, Holness said the country is "now in the phase of the pandemic where the society has to learn to live with the disease".

This is a similar line to that which has been gradually used by Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, and his team of health officials since the reopening of the island's borders in June.

"The Government has put in place all the measures necessary to ensure it is safe for the people of Jamaica to campaign, and safe to work and do business," Holness further said in defending his decision and actions during the leadership debate.

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