Over 800 people attend football games at Hellshire Beach - McKenzie
File photo of persons gathered at the Hellshire Beach in St Catherine last month.
A football tournament with over 800 patrons, held at the popular Hellshire beach in St Catherine, has drawn the ire of Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie.
McKenzie told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that a COVID-19 survey team was shocked last weekend to find hundreds of people crowded at the popular beach to watch a football tournament which he said was sponsored by "major" companies.
"These are companies that should know better," he said.
This, among other breaches means that as of Thursday, July 2, any beach or river operator found in breach of health protocols will see their facility closed immediately coupled with possible criminal charges being levelled against them, McKenzie said.
He said that of the 67 beaches and 74 rivers that were surveyed last weekend, the overall level of performance/adherence to COVID-19 protocols was a mere 33 per cent.
“The breaches of the individual protocols were even more serious where some 97 per cent of people visiting these locations …did so without wearing a mask as is required by the health protocols,” McKenzie lamented. He said 66 per cent of persons did not practice social distancing and many operators of the facilities also failed to obey and enforce the protocols.
According to the survey findings, a mere 22 per cent of river operators complied with the designated opening hours under the relevant order while 46 per cent of beach operators were compliant in this respect. Only 19 per cent of both beach and river operators had sanitisation stations at their locations and only 42 per cent had clearly marked areas for vending.
“Only a meagre four per cent had signs erected stating the protocols to be followed,” McKenzie stated.
Pointing to the major breach at the Hellshire beach, the minister noted parties and other events were still being held.
“This situation is untenable. Accordingly, as of tomorrow (Thursday) the second of July, all beaches and rivers will be strictly monitored and those found to be in breach of the protocols will be closed with immediate effect,” McKenzie stated.
He added that “Both beach and river operators as well as the public will be warned for possible prosecution under the Disaster Risk Management Act”.
Under the Act, persons found in breach of the relevant orders and protocols can be fined up to $1 million or be sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Once a facility is shuttered, McKenzie said the onus will be on the operators to satisfy the authorities that they have put in place, all the protocols before they are allowed to reopen
As of Thursday, the monitoring that will be done will include the police.
Both the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency management and the Social Development Commission (SDC) will be surveying the beaches and rivers to ensure that the protocols are being observed.
The SDC’s capacity will be bolstered by the employment of 250 temporary staff across the island.
“It is vital that all who operate and visit these facilities obey the COVID-19 protocols. I say once again, the manner in which people use these recreational spaces, will determine whether they remain open,” McKenzie warned.