Right as the BUZZ team arrived at 1A Allerdyce Drive in St Andrew, the atmosphere was chilling. Our team was met by two police officers, stationed just outside the former hospice.
“I am not authorised to speak on the matter, if you have questions, speak with Superintendent Fletcher at the Constant Spring Police Station,” one of the officers told us before requesting that we leave.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine facility, established by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, seemed unassuming at first—but on closer inspection, the site was buzzing with activity. There was an ambulance present, medical professionals walked about; even the security guards were donning N95 respirators as a precaution.
Residents in the area who spoke with BUZZ raised concerns about the facility being used as a quarantine centre. They also expressed frustration about not being included in the decision-making process nor given prior notice about the current use of the premises. While they understand that they aren’t owed a full explanation, as the premises is a government facility, the residents are of the view that a warning or informal decree would have sufficed. The residents said they only received some information after weeks of incessant questioning.
1A Allerdyce: Est. January 31?
According to the residents, they noticed a significant uptick in the number of police and government vehicles since late January and the entire operation was very ‘hush-hush’. The location, which usually housed doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, effectively became one of Kingston’s four quarantine facilities as of Friday, January 31.
“Initially, we heard that it was people from China were being quarantined over there,” said a woman on Allerdyce Drive, who asked not to be named. The woman said she had not known that one patient, 27-year-old Kemar Bailey, had escaped quarantine from that very facility on Monday.
“So that was real?” she asked, to which we responded, ‘Yes’. She then went silent as if being jolted by the information. “I’m not happy about it, but these are people just being quarantined. They don’t necessarily have it, so I am happy about that part,” she finally said.
It could have been a different story if the man had decided to roam the streets, which has a basic school situated on neighbouring Shortwood Road.
“I would have liked to have been notified of that because he could have run off and come over here. I do have a problem with that part,” the woman told BUZZ. “I would have liked—seeing that we’re so close—[that] we were made aware of the situation.”
Interestingly, the police presence was a 24-hour fixture at the entrance to the facility, so the residents are curious as to how Bailey managed to circumvent two layers of security—and the prospect of the facility’s vulnerability scares everyone. What’s more, the residents groused that they were not given the same courtesy as Vineyard Town’s citizens who were afforded a meeting when the issue of the St Joseph’s Hospital being used as a quarantine facility arose.
‘Even with questions, silence persists’
“The Friday night [Jan 31], I saw two trucks coming and asked where was 1A? We knew that [the] place was a hostel for ex-pat doctors and nurses, so we thought there were [more] people coming,” an elderly woman said. “Then we saw a whole group of police and my husband joked, ‘We’re going to have 24-hour protection now!’ and we were feeling good. It was the Sunday morning, I was outside doing my gardening and I saw the whole lot of police out there, I said to my daughter ‘I wonder if is over there them putting the corona-people?’ and she said ‘Shut up because yuh know you have goat mout’,” she added.
The family recalled the quiet but increased government presence and told BUZZ of multiple occasions when they went out to enquire but got no response. “We kept seeing [the police] directly across from the house and we were like ‘Are you guys okay?’ so we tried to figure out what was going on. Then we were told, ‘Don’t worry, if we just don’t go over to where the police are, we’ll be fine’,” the daughter said. It was then that the alarms started going off in many residents’ minds.
Law enforcement oblivious to the gravity of their duties
Added worry was the observation that many of the officers, guarding the facility on shifts, were completely unaware of the nature of their duties.
“They don’t know why they’re here; some have come to learn [afterward]. They would come and want to use our toilets and we would tell them no. It’s just a case of bad organisation,” an elderly man told BUZZ.
“Apparently, the security forces they are sending are not even informed as to why they’re there. Some of them are told it’s of a ‘sensitive nature’ and that’s all they know,” he said. “They shouldn’t be coming to me to use our bathrooms. What should have been done is they should have been introduced [to us], even when they’re told they should stay outside.”