Bars at several Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) police stations across the Corporate Area are operating in breach of a ban by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The shutdown of drinking parlours, nightclubs and entertainment venues, which was initially effective for seven days starting March 18, was yesterday extended to April 23.
However, bars operating at police stations, such as Matilda’s Corner, nearby the Office of the Police Commissioner, were observed yesterday breaching the law with impunity.
The Gleaner visited five locations, four of which were accessible and open not only to police personnel, but to the public. The Gleaner witnessed purchases being made at the Kingston Central and Hunts Bay police stations.
Yesterday, at 5 p.m., the Matilda’s Corner Police Station in Liguanea was in full swing with cops in high spirits in the company of the bartender. At this location, social-distancing protocols – of persons standing one metre apart – was not being enforced
A policeman at the Matilda’s Corner Station confirmed to The Gleaner via phone that the police bar closes at 10 p.m.
At 5:30 yesterday, a civilian was observed walking through the guardroom at Hunts Bay Police Station and directed to the bar where he purchased a drink.
This time, however, the bartender appeared to have been cleaning up after her customers, saying she was “not quite ready” to lock up.
Over at the Kingston Central Police Station, police officers were seated at the counter watching TV and quaffing libations at 6 p.m.
A civilian was directed by a policewoman not to walk through the guardroom but to access the bar by going through the station yard.
Many bar operators have been appealing to the Government to roll back the lockdown, arguing that their parlours rarely accommodate as many as 10 customers outside of special occasions.
When the initial shutdown was ordered by the prime minister, restaurants, pharmacies and corner shops were allowed to remain open and allow no more than 20 persons. That limit falls to 10 effective today.
During a press conference at Jamaica House on March 16, Holness warned that bars and other venues would not be allowed to open because of crowd-control concerns.
“I know I am going to be criticised because I don’t drink, but bars are closed. We are restricting the opening of bars, nightclubs and other areas of entertainment,” he said.
It is unclear whether the police breaches have emboldened private operators, but several bars were observed yesterday by roving journalists to be selling liquor and accommodating customers.
Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, who is in charge of the constabulary’s communications arm, conceded that police stations were not exempt from the Government’s ban.
“The answer to your question is no,” Lindsay said, pithily, when quizzed by The Gleaner if police stations were beyond the scope of the bar closure rules.
When advised that several police stations across the Corporate Area were breaching the ban, Lindsay said she was not able to immediately address the matter.
“I would want to check first, I would have to make some checks … ,” she said.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte outlined the penalties for failing to comply with the new restrictions.
“As a result of the orders made … if you fail to comply essentially, you are liable to a fine of $1 million or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months. Be warned, the laws will be enforced,” the attorney general said during a recent press conference.
Up to yesterday, 25 people were confirmed to have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. One person has died.