The Gleaner: KINGSTON, Jamaica – Prime Minister Andrew Holness announces a relaxation in COVID-19 measures during his address in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has given the clearest signal that concrete steps are being taken to remove the shield of lockdowns and restrictions that have been introduced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, signalling that so-called anti-vaxxers will have to face the consequences of their decisions going forward.

“The Government continues to act in the best interest to preserve lives and to preserve livelihoods as best as possible. We are being very cautious in reopening, and just to be clear, we are not going to shut down again,” he said.

In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Holness lamented that significant scarce resources were being spent to treat persons in hospitals who have contracted COVID-19, of which 98.6 percent were unvaccinated.

He said that it was unfair to many Jamaicans who have been waiting to undergo surgery for other types of chronic illnesses but had been in limbo owing to the number of bed spaces occupied by persons who contracted the virus.

“The Government will ultimately have no choice but to allocate a finite set of resources to managing COVID-19-related hospitalisations, including a fixed number of beds. We cannot continue to dedicate virtually the entire capacity of the health system to dealing only with COVID-19 to the detriment of other health system users,” Holness said.

Announcing a relaxation in some measures under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA), the prime minister said the Government had no plans to lock down the country again, noting that schools were being reopened and instructions given to follow the COVID-19 protocols.

“We are not going to close the schools again, so we are gradually opening up,” he said.

However, that resolve could soon be tested with epidemiologists and other medical experts suggesting that a fourth wave of the deadly respiratory disease could emerge here by year end or January.

On Tuesday, Holness chided those he claimed were being led by false prophets who discourage people from taking the vaccines, which he believes has fuelled high levels of hesitancy and scepticism. Less than 17 percent of the Jamaican population is fully vaccinated, placing the country in the cellar of non-compliance in the Caribbean, with only Haiti ranked lower.

Holness noted that many had become increasingly frustrated with the measures to contain the virus “so much so that it is creating social discontent and creating perverse choices and behaviours”.

“As we move into the post-COVID phase and we remove the measures that have kept you safe, you will have to make decisions about your health,” he said.

The prime minister told his parliamentary colleagues that the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 were never intended to be long term and would soon come to an end.

“My conscience is clear on the vaccination matter. I have gone the length and breadth. I have preached the word. It is now for the people to make their decision,” he said.

Turning to senior citizens, Holness warned that Jamaicans aged 60 and over who were more vulnerable to a severe outcome from the disease should get vaccinated.

He also again cautioned those with comorbidities to take the jab as they were more likely to get seriously ill or die.

“For those of us who have the view that they will never be infected, that is not a view that has much wisdom behind it. It is going to be with us and most of us will become exposed to it,” he told lawmakers.

The slight ease in the COVID-19 containment measures will take effect this Thursday and continue until December 9.

The curfew runs from 9pm to 5am. At present, it starts at 8pm.

Places of worship have received a reprieve, with attendance numbers increasing from 50 to 100 based on social-distancing protocols and capacity.

The number of people who can attend weddings has also increased from 50 to 100.

Event planner Jennifer Borgh said that the announcement by the prime minister was a positive move. However, she said that industry players would not be able to get back to work as the measure would expire on December 10. She said that many weddings before that have been cancelled months ago.

She wants the Government to extend the ease in restriction to January.

In relation to funerals and burials, the number has increased to 20.

Attendance at annual general meetings has also moved up from 50 to 100.

On the issue of COVID pretesting requirements for persons travelling to Jamaica, the prime minister said that antigen or PCR tests remain in effect.

However, he said that fully vaccinated travellers who have a negative PCR test result upon boarding will not be required to go into quarantine on entering Jamaica.