Sunday, May 10, 2020

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SOME of those who live in the town of Annotto Bay and adjoining communities in St Mary, are insisting that two acts are mainly responsible for the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in their midst.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness revealed last Sunday that six more people had contracted the virus in the north-east Jamaica parish, which had pushed the overall number of those affected at 15. By last Tuesday, another positive finding was added to St Mary's total, making it the fourth hardest hit, in terms of overall numbers.

The rising statistics forced the Government to quarantine some communities by Wednesday, including Annotto Bay, Enfield, and Dover, throwing thousands of people off guard. The action is expected to last for at least 14 days.

The Government adopted the Nicodemus-like approach, obviously learning from the major exodus of people who fled the parish of St Catherine three weeks ago, having been forewarned by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the parish would go on lockdown for 14 days.

Now, what could have contributed to the jump in COVID-19 cases in the St Mary communities? If you ask most people, they would point to two things.

A huge funeral held in Annotto Bay recently, against the guidelines outlined by the Health Ministry; and the travels of a security guard who lives at Dover, three miles outside of Annotto Bay heading to the easternmost parish of Portland, are said to be at the heart of the surge.

The funeral of former gangster Howie Wilson, known also by the alias “Paarie”, who was buried on Sunday, April 26 at the Annotto Bay Cemetery, not only raised eyebrows and concern, but was said to have attracted people from COVID-19-affected St Catherine, who somehow defied curfew orders imposed by the Government, and attended the final send-off.

It is suspected that persons who had been exposed to COVID-19 were in attendance.

“I hear from in the week that whole heap a people a come from St Catherine, all Spanish Town side fi go a di funeral, so that's why me no badda go,” one Annotto Bay resident told the Jamaica Observer.

To make matters worse, some of those complaining said the stipulated 10 people for such ceremonies was breached by far.

“There were thousands of people who came to this funeral,” another resident said. “Not a lot of them go into the church roun' the lane, but is a whole heap inna the motorcade to the cemetery, and a massive amount gather up at the graveside without masks and jus' a brush up pon dem one another so.”

The resident showed the Sunday Observer a video of the procession and a huge crowd bundled up at the Annotto Bay Cemetery.

The appalling thing, yet another said, was that police personnel were present and did nothing to enforce the regulations.

Wilson, along with Donovan “Junior Timber” Haffizula were killed weeks before by men who have not been apprehended by the police. The deceased men were said to be members of the 'Unruly Crew', a well-known gang that police said has contributed to criminal activities in the Annotto Bay area.

A police source told the Sunday Observer that they were under surveillance by law enforcers for their role in the theft of building material on the Georgia [Chovey] to Broadgate road improvement project, undertaken by Surrey Paving Company Ltd.

“These guys were both employed on the site and they, we believe, were behind the stealing of material like steel … they would have taken away tons of steel and other items, sold it, and would give some of the proceeds to some of those youth in Annotto Bay, so they were liked in the town by those who benefitted from the proceeds.

“The police were also investigating the disappearance, or you may say, theft, of a jack hammer, and it is believed that the two deceased men were behind that job as well. They were feared by many of the workers on the project, as they often behaved like bullies and for some reason it appeared that they could not be fired, as there was not enough evidence to dismiss them and the other workers were afraid to lodge formal complaints against them. We were even told that Howie had 'boxed' a senior worker but nothing came of it,” the law enforcer said.

Efforts to reach officials of Surrey Paving failed, and when the Sunday Observer visited the work site last Thursday to get comments from workers, none would speak on the matter.

It was the same police source who told the Sunday Observer that the wake or 'set up' held for Howie on the night of April 25 in Annotto Bay, had to be shut down by the police, as according to him “they were bringing in big sound system and things like that, that would cause a lot of problems.”

The source said that he could not address the matter of why his colleagues did nothing to keep the crowd at a minimum on the day of the funeral.

“Howie was a rough boy. He was always mixed up in all kinds of things and even him father him did waa fight before him dead.”

Junior Timber was buried the week before without fanfare.

Regarding the security guard from Dover who contracted the virus, the Sunday Observer understands that the individual was commuting daily between his home base and a resort near Ocho Rios, and it is believed that somewhere along the route, he came in contact with someone who was positive.

Others around him were later quarantined after it was found that he had returned a positive test.

The guard was treated at the Annotto Bay Hospital, but a Sunday Observer investigation showed that initially, he returned a low grade fever, but was later confirmed as COVID-19 positive.

Following on quarantine procedures imposed by health officials, the Ministry of Health and Wellness dispatched workers to the community to do temperature checks on people living there last Sunday.

There was a snag though, according to a health ministry official intimate with the day's activity, as the police had to be called in to force people to do their checks, after many of them failed to cooperate with earlier requests for temperature readings.

Soldiers and police swooped down on the communities late Wednesday evening. Many people were caught with their pants down. Others, though caught unprepared, suggested in media interviews that the move by State officials to quarantine the area was necessary.

By Thursday morning, the always busy Annotto Bay, which houses a type B hospital named after it, resembled a deserted town, as there was hardly anyone on the road that stretches to Dover, the tail of which borders the parish of Portland.

It was a clear sign that the security forces had taken control.

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