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Local Government Minister Rebuffs Opposition Claims That Disaster Co-ordinators and Social Agencies Not Fully Mobilized to Fight Covid-19

Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, has expressed dismay and disappointment at comments made by Opposition Spokesperson on Local Government, Natalie Neita. The Opposition Spokesperson called on the Minister to fully mobilize Disaster Committees and Social Agencies in the fight against COVID-19.

“It is amazing to hear the Opposition Spokesperson speak as though all the organs of the Local Government and Community Development Ministry are not already fully up and running. The Ministry, the Local Authorities, all our Agencies including the Social Development Commission and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, have been and continue to be fully engaged and active as we work to see the back of COVID-19 in Jamaica.

“The reality is that from the time the very first case of the virus was announced, I initially met will all Mayors on March 13.

Through this and subsequent meetings, we agreed on a clear and comprehensive plan to address all the areas and people we serve, including the homeless, our vulnerable in the Infirmaries and Golden Age Homes, and the management of the country’s Markets. We have had many meetings not only with the Mayors but with the range of stakeholders from Matrons to Poor Relief Officers to Disaster Co-ordinators. In fact, our structures were modified to deal with COVID-19, as they were already activated and dealing with the challenges posed by Dengue fever.

“Let me also say in this regard, that I invited the Opposition Spokesperson on Local Government to a meeting of the National Health Committee on March 18, which she attended and participated in. I therefore regard her comments as disingenuous, politically mischievous, and a failed attempt to stem the good tide of public understanding and support that this Administration is receiving, as we work to protect our citizens against this pandemic. For the removal of any possible doubt, and for the public record, we have:

1.Initiated and intensified specific security and sanitary protocols for all Infirmaries and Golden Age Homes. These include restrictions on visits and the prohibition of new admissions, the use of sanitary stations and Infrared Thermometers, the creation of Isolation Areas to take care of any residents who may contract the virus, and the wearing of special sanitary clothing by Infirmary employees who directly attend to residents in these care facilities.

2.The Social Development Commission continues to support our efforts at promoting personal hygiene and social distancing in public spaces, especially our Markets, by using Town Criers to spread these messages in every single parish. The SDC is also engaging in the updated mapping of vulnerable people to ensure an even more targeted social response.

3.The Ministry has spent nearly J$300 million to address the direct needs of our most vulnerable. These moneys have been used to assist the Municipal Corporations to sanitise public spaces, and to boost their collective capacity to implement sanitary protocols by employing an additional 120 persons. Just as importantly, this figure includes J$140 million allocated to all elected representatives at the local level, for care programmes for the vulnerable in the 229 Divisions island-wide. All Mayors were allocated J$750,000 each in this regard, and all Councillors have been allocated J$600,000.

4.Over J$3 million has been spent to procure fresh agricultural produce from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), to provide nutritional support to residents in Infirmaries, Golden Age Homes and Drop-In Centres. Over 500 trays of eggs have also been obtained in this regard.

5.The Ministry, in partnership with entities such as Food for the Poor, the Salvation Army, the National Health Fund and the Grace Kennedy Group, has distributed food, drink and medical supplies including oxygen tanks. Desnoes & Geddes has donated $6 million in Malta drinks to assist our nutritional support efforts. Through our special partnership with Digicel, 100 foot-operated hand-washing stations valued at $3 million, will be imported for use in public spaces.

6.Since the special programme of feeding and addressing the hygiene needs of our homeless population started on March 29, over 28,461 meals, and 3,240 care packages have been distributed. Over 20,000 people have benefited from this intervention so far, and we will continue to provide this support. Our Drop-In Centres continue to be spaces of comfort and refuge for our homeless population, and the sanitary protocols and temperature checks are also being implemented at all locations. Since the retrofitting of the shelter for the homeless on Church Street in Kingston, over 500 visits have been made to the facility, which is attended by Patient Care Assistants and secured by the Municipal Police.

7.The RONA Senior Care Helpline is up and running and is already proving to be a welcome source of information and logistical support for our senior citizens.

“It is clear therefore that all the moving parts of this Ministry are up and running. Our Disaster Co-ordinators, who are critical and named functionaries in the National Disaster Risk Management Council, which the Prime Minister has authorized me to manage on a daily basis, are fully on the job. The mobilization of which the Opposition Spokesperson speaks must therefore be for some other disaster or national challenge in the future, but most certainly does not apply to COVID-19.

“I want to give the public assurance that the fight against this disease is being undertaken with sensitivity and flexibility. In this regard, our effectiveness will be even more greatly enhanced, as our Ministry, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, on the instructions of the Most Honourable Prime Minister, will creatively align our talents and resources to ensure greater public access to the medical and social interventions being implemented by the Government of Jamaica.”