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Rick's Café ordered closed as gov't does damage control over Mocha Fest

Superintendent Robert Gordon, head of the Westmoreland Police; Prime Minister Andrew Holness; Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett; Richard Wallace, President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and Industry
 
The Holness administration is in damage control mode on Friday as it faces growing public anger after videos surfaced showing scores of patrons attending a party at Rick's Café in Negril, Westmoreland on Thursday.
 
Criticism is mounting against the government even as state agencies scramble to take action against the operators of Rick's Café and the Jamaica Tourist Board disassociated itself from the party which was one of several events held this week by organisers of Mocha Fest.
 
The events took place despite restrictions on public gatherings and the lockdown of the entertainment sector as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
 
Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie on Friday ordered the closure of Rick's Café.
 
The closure will be for seven days for breaches of the Orders under the Disaster Risk Management Act.
 
Mr. McKenzie said the police and the monitoring team of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) will ensure that the closure is enforced.
 
The management of Rick's Café has been summoned to a meeting on Monday with the Local Government Ministry and ODPEM.
 
Superintendent Robert Gordon, head of the Westmoreland Police, told Radio Jamaica News that one of the organisers of Mocha Fest will be charged by this weekend with breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act.
 
Superintendent Gordon said the police became aware of the illegal event Thursday afternoon and immediately went to the location and "directed that the operations should be closed down."
 
However, he noted that "on the arrival of the police, what was observed on social media...that is not what we actually saw. But we believed that we would have seen sufficient [breaches] to prosecute."
 
Superintendent Gordon told Radio Jamaica News that no further Mocha Fest events will be allowed to take place. 
 
He also urged citizens to call the police 119 number if they observe any breaches. 
 
Radio Jamaica News was informed that since the start of the week more than 800 tourists, mainly from the US, have converged on Negril for the Mocha Fest parties.
 
According to a tourism source, the patrons were required to provide COVID-19 test results and were restricted to specific resorts in the town.
 
 
Investigation 
 
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said an investigation is to be carried out to ensure government entities did not aid in law breaking in relation to Mocha Fest. 
 
He said the various arms of the state that have a duty to ensure equal application of the law are expected to "move in that direction to ensure that if there is any breach, the full application of the law will be guaranteed."
 
Mr. Holness said the event has again highlighted the inequalities in society. But he insisted that the government has a duty to ensure that "the law is equally applied, both to those who have not and those who have."
 
Mr. Holness pleaded that while Jamaicans might be frustrated with the COVID-19 measures, they should not become complacent.
 
He was speaking Friday morning at a floral tribute in honour of late former prime minister, Edward Seaga, whose 91st birthday is being commemorated today. 
 
 
Breaches not tolerated 
 
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has issued a stern warning that breaches of COVID-19 protocols will not be tolerated in the tourism sector and on the resilient corridor "that has had international recognition because of the compliance level that we have had and the impeccable record of very, very low, indeed in instances, no infection whatsoever."
 
He said his ministry will act "immediately and firmly in relation to the Rick's Café breach."
 
Earlier, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) said it was disturbed that its logo was included in promotional material for Mocha Fest events. 
 
The JTB says it has given no undertaking for sponsorship or endorsement of such activities since the start of the pandemic. 
 
The JTB said the visitjamaica.com platform hosts a calendar for all events staged in Jamaica that it endorses.
 
It added that the dates for these events are typically set years in advance and listed on the site to facilitate pre-planning for visitors and travel agents that sell the destination. 
 
The JTB disclosed that the events section remained on its website during the pandemic.
 
It has since disabled this section on the site. 
 
 
Negril Chamber of Commerce
 
Richard Wallace, President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said while he was aware of the promotion of Mocha Fest for this year, he was surprised that the event was actually held.
 
Mr. Wallace said he became aware of the event a week ago.
 
He said he understands the outrage from the entertainment sector, as events need to come back in a fair way.
 
Mr. Wallace is suggesting that the authorities use the debacle as a learning curve by assessing the breaches in protocols and determining what can be done to correct it. 
 
But Mr. Wallace said answers are needed from the authorities, including how Mocha Fest was held without their knowledge. 
 
 


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