The Entire Island of Jamaica is Declared a Disaster Area: Six New COVID-19 Cases, and More Useful and Interesting Information


Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks at this evening’s press briefing at Jamaica House. (Photo: Twitter)

It is Friday, March 13, 2020. Not a very auspicious day. We are (nervously) awaiting a press briefing at 6:00 p.m. at Jamaica House, which will be live streamed on the Facebook page of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

I have somehow become a little obsessed with the coronavirus (COVID-19) – but the news is coming thick and fast. The situation is evolving. I am trying to pull together a few things that I have learned over the past two or three days. There is too much misinformation out there (especially on WhatsApp). We should at all times stick to the official version of things – not rumors and fake news spread by someone you don’t even know.

#LifeinthetimeofCOVID19 is a great hashtag coined by @KellyKatharin on Twitter. I stole it for the headline to my article for Global Voices here. Indeed, life has suddenly changed this week. We are confused and puzzled. We are distracted and constantly on the alert for more (bad) news. It’s hard to stay calm. People are besieging the supermarkets in desperation – as if a hurricane is approaching.

However, for me puppy videos and photos from a Jamaican Twitter friend, as well as the wonderful camera-trap videos of Jamaican birds visiting a watering hole in the Brazilletto Mountains of Clarendon taken by the awesome Damion Whyte of BirdLife Jamaica fame (@roosters_world). Carlene is also helping with wonderful videos of her gorgeous orchids and her bird feeder! And there is always music… and deep breathing!

Quarantined Italians are singing from balconies (accompanied by barking dogs!) to cheer themselves up. Here’s the linkPictures of resilience are everywhere. People don’t want to feel defeated by COVID-19.

Anyway, kudos to Dr. Christopher Tufton, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie and the amazing team at the Ministry of Health and Wellness. I know that they have been working extremely hard – it seems practically 24/7. I am myself a “night owl” and was just about to doze off last night when I saw a “stay tuned” message from the Minister on Twitter (he never stops communicating!) Yesterday (Thursday March 12) we had been wondering when the next set of test results was going to come through. Well, at well past midnight the Minister tweeted as follows:

  • As of March 13 (early hours!) we have six additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to eight. They are:
  • Two males, age 63 and 67, who arrived on March 7 from Trinidad, having traveled from Malaysia via Dubai and London. They presented at hospital on March 11.
  • One male, 36, who traveled from Manchester, England. He was taken to hospital from his hotel via ambulance on March 11.
  • One male, 31, a Jamaican overseas ship worker who came in from the Canary Islands via Portugal and Miami. He arrived on February 25 and presented to the hospital with symptoms on March 10.
  • One male, 58, the father of the first patient confirmed with COVID-19. He was discovered ill at home on March 11.
  • One female, 34, who is a close contact of the first patient.

As of this afternoon, it was confirmed that there are 43 people in Government quarantine facilities, 11 in home quarantine and 13 in isolation – 8 of whom have tested positive. This means that there are at least five more tests outstanding. If I am doing the Math correctly! As of this evening, these numbers are still accurate to my knowledge:

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-13 at 4.15.54 PM
COVID19 numbers from JIS as of the afternoon of Friday, March 13, 2020.

Prior to this, the Ministry put out a few messages in connection with their efforts to trace contacts of the first two cases. Here is the main information:

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is tracing passengers who were aboard flight AA 1515 from Miami to Montego Bay on March 7. The second person to be confirmed with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) also came into the island aboard that flight. She is a Jamaican national, an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, who traveled from London to Miami and connected from Miami to Montego Bay.

The Ministry is in the process of contacting all persons who came in on the flight, using the information on the flight manifest. However, to expedite the process, the Ministry is asking all persons who were on flight AA 1515 to call 888-754-7792 or email

The Ministry encourages those persons who were passengers aboard flight AA 1515 to pay close attention to their health status and self-quarantine if they show signs.

The Ministry is also tracing passengers who traveled to Norman Manley International Airport on BA 2263 on Wednesday, March 4. The first person confirmed, a dual Jamaican/British citizen, traveled on this flight for a family funeral. The same request applies – contact the Ministry urgently!

This person attended the funeral of Gloria Clarke on Saturday, March 7. Anyone who attended that funeral should contact the Ministry.

In addition to the 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683) announced recently for members of the public to contact the Ministry of Health & Wellness with COVID-19 concerns, the Ministry added some new numbers to call. Email is or 

  • 888-754-7792
    · 876-542-5998
    · 876-542-6007
    · 876-542- 6006
    · 876-542-5998

The Caribbean in the Time of COVID-19:

It’s not so much a question of “who has cases” but “who doesn’t.” So far, no cases have been reported in: Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Montserrat, and St. Kitts & Nevis – a list that is steadily shrinking. Not to mention some sickly cruise ships floating around. This is a staggering blow to the industry, as I wrote here recently for Global Voices. Other countries in the region now reporting cases include Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras; and further south, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia.

The Cayman Islands has banned all cruise ships for 60 days.

Fake News, Misinformation and DISinformation:

All kinds of nonsense is being circulated on social media. Here is one that is plaguing our friends at UNICEF Jamaica:


Social Distancing:

Handshakes, hugs and kisses are out! Here are some alternatives:

Secretary Kerry Makes Namaste Gesture (“Ayubowan”) While Walking Through Cordon of Sri Lankan Women Upon Arriving at Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo in May, 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

Namaste (or as I learned in Sri Lanka, “Ayubowan”; a wave and a smile; a hand on the heart and smile; or just smile!

Other new terms we often hear are community spread, self-isolation, social distancing. 

Hygiene and Hand-Washing:

We are obsessed, suddenly. Here is some guidance on the latter, just shared by the Ministry. Keep all your surfaces clean and sanitized, especially things like faucets, doorknobs and handles, light switches.


Scotiabank: The New Kingston branch has closed for the next two weeks and is being sanitized, after it emerged that the first case was in contact with some employees there;

U.S. Embassy: The second confirmed case, a Jamaican female employee of the Embassy who had returned from the UK, did not have contact with the public, an Embassy spokesperson said. The building is now closed to the public and is sanitizing.

Coronation Market: Closed as of 8:00 p.m. tomorrow and being thoroughly sanitized. This amazingly busy area will reopen on Thursday, March 19.

Churches? Some priests are saying they may have “remote” services, but – this is a tall order. Much of Jamaicans’ social life revolves around them!

All schools, from basic up to tertiary level, are closed as of today. Schools are expected to reopen after Easter.

Postponements and Cancellations of Events:

Almost everything in the Caribbean, including but not limited to:

Jamaica Carnival (rescheduled for an October 25 Road March); “Champs” high school athletics competition; St. Lucia Jazz Festival; etc, etc.

So…we have to work remotely. Social life is drastically curtailed!

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-13 at 5.41.45 PM

And group meetings don’t always work well. Our son and his girlfriend are working remotely in London, and shared this:

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-13 at 4.15.28 PM

You know what they say: “Tek bad sinting mek laugh” (in other words, make a joke out of something serious). Jamaicans can always see the funny side.

Plus a long list of parties, “nine nights” and dances scheduled for the next two weeks in Kingston. Mayor Delroy Williams has revoked all entertainment licenses already issued and will not issue any more for the next two weeks. He tweeted the entire list yesterday.

Famous People with COVID19:

Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson;

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of the Canadian Prime Minister;

Utah Jazz basketballer Rudy Gobert;

Mikel Arteta, the coach of Arsenal Football Club. (Photo: Getty Images)

And most tragic of all, the coach of Arsenal Football Club (my team!) Mikel Arteta – the entire team is now self-isolating along with a number of other staff members. Sob!

I had hoped Jair Messias Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, had tested positive – according to some Brazilian newspapers, this was the case. It must have been wishful thinking on their part. He is negative. So, there is still no reprieve for the Amazon rainforest!

However, Bolsonaro’s Communications Director, who met Trump in Florida last weekend (wearing an obnoxious “Make Brazil Great Again” tacky little baseball cap) has tested positive and was photographed very close to the Orange One. Others in tow that weekend were Ivanka T, Rudy Giuliani and others. Could this mean…? (Trump says he has not been tested, but we all know his acquaintance with the Truth is very slight).

As I said, all of the above has been developing rapidly and things are fairly intense. In light of this evening’s disaster declaration, I will be updating you again shortly!

So long for now from the Disaster Area!

Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton at this evening’s press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister. (Photo: Twitter)






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