COVID-19 in Jamaica: An Official Update on Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Jamaica has confirmed one more case of COVID-19, bringing the total to 13, as of this evening (March 17). This case is linked to “Patient 1” (formerly called “Patient Zero”) who traveled from the UK  on March 4 for a family funeral, and linked to the Bull Bay area now under quarantine. Five results were received today, and four of them were negative. The first two patients are reportedly recovering well.

The Ministry is currently awaiting the results of 11 more tests.

We have 26 people in isolation, 52 in home quarantine, and 27 in quarantine at government facilities.  This number does not include the community of Bull Bay (Seven Miles/Eight Miles) which is under quarantine, with a population of around 14,000.

Here is the latest dashboard showing the figures as of this evening.

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There was another press briefing this evening, which gave us a thorough update. As always, it was streamed live on Facebook, so you can watch it in full here.

Meanwhile, I hope you find the following information useful:

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton have told us about the new travel restrictions, to take effect tomorrow (Wednesday, March 18). ALL travelers to Jamaica from countries where there is local transmission of COVID-19 – which now add up to over 80 countries around the world – will be required by law to home-quarantine for up to 14 days. If they do not have symptoms, they will be allowed to leave the island and return to their country of origin during that 14-day period. A list of those countries will be placed on their website (not yet updated).

Minister Tufton said there was a need to “balance” the need to support our tourism industry, to support the economy and employment. He also pointed out that Jamaica is very food-dependent (we have a huge food import bill).

Some countries (including our close neighbors, the Cayman Islands) have completely shut down their borders. Jamaica is attempting a more nuanced approach; and Minister Tufton suggested that we simply could not afford to close our borders, while other nations might be in a position to do so. It very much depends on the situation in those countries. “We are not that wealthy, even though we’re getting there,” he added.

“We have to keep the economy going,” the Prime Minister had told journalists at yesterday’s briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister.

All cruise ports will be closed tomorrow also, according to the Port Authority of Jamaica’s Public Advisory. The PAJ notes that this is “in accordance with a global cruise industry decision to suspend cruise shipping operations for a minimum of 30 days,” adding: “The PAJ is also focused on the safe and smooth return of those passengers currently at sea onboard ships that would be affected by this decision.”

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Cleaning and sanitization efforts currently under way in Coronation Market, the largest market in the English-speaking Caribbean. Hand washing stations are also to be installed. It is now scheduled to reopen at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, March 20. (Photo: Twitter)

Apart from travel, the following restrictions are to be applied as of tomorrow:

  • hospital, nursing home and infirmary visits will be limited to one person per patient per day;
  • services at clinics, outpatient areas in hospitals are to be scaled down to reduce crowding – more details to follow;
  • bars, nightclubs, cinemas and other amusement venues are to be closed, and Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams warned on Twitter that any places that do not obey this order are likely to lose their licenses;
  • markets, supermarkets, corner shops and pharmacies will remain open. Restaurants would be limited – if possible not dining in, but takeouts (and deliveries?) The 20-person limit should be observed. Markets will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; Minister Tufton said it was impractical to shut down food shops as many Jamaicans have to go to the shop daily (“living hand to mouth).
  • there is to be no gathering in any public space of more than 20 people. This would include funerals and weddings;
  • buses operated by Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and Montego Bay Metro must carry only seated passengers;
  • taxis are to carry one passenger less than their licenses allow;
  • all non-essential work should be done from home in the public and private sectors for the next seven days;

All these measures will be in effect for seven days and will be reviewed after five days. The situation is “fluid” and these measures may be discontinued, although the Prime Minister yesterday suggested this was unlikely.  The penalty for breaching any of these measures is a fine of J$1 million or twelve months in prison if unable to pay.

The above measures are promulgated under the Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures Order 2020) announced by the Prime Minister on March 18, according to Section 26/2 of the Disaster Risk Management Act. These measures have been gazetted, although not yet available online.

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A checkpoint in Bull Bay. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

So what is happening in Bull Bay? The Ministry of Health is conducting surveillance and mapping by public health inspectors, visiting households in this community now under quarantine, Minister Tufton reported this evening. This includes routinely taking residents’ temperatures and checking on any symptoms. Medical officers are on call for the community. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is distributing care packages, he said, to those who need it. If people are not getting them, they should report to the personnel on the ground. The Government is working with the Salvation Army, Food for the Poor and the Red Cross in this work. The National Health Fund Mobile Unit will be providing pharmacy services, driving through the community and setting up eleven checkpoints, which would be drop off points for prescriptions. The Bull Bay Health Centre will be open to provide routine curative services from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

And what of our many hotels? Guests who are quarantined there should not be restricted to their rooms and can move around the property, go to the pool and the beach etc., if they show no symptoms. However, if guests do have any symptoms they must self-quarantine. The hotels will have to vigilant regarding “social distancing” – I am guessing that this could be rather tricky, as hotels are sociable places!

Importantly, what of donor support? Donor partners committed their support at a meeting and the Permanent Secretary will be putting together a needs list, he reported.

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Flanked by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dustan Bryan (left) and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, Minister Christopher Tufton speaks at a recent press briefing. (Photo: JIS)

Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan also expressed his concern over signs of stigma and discrimination against those even remotely suspected of having connections with the virus. Taxi drivers are reportedly refusing to transport nurses but he said “people are being denied services.” Similarly, a particular family in an area of Kingston is facing discrimination; they are in home quarantine because of their connection with a COVID-19 case.

“Stigma and discrimination always, always undermines any effort that we make in terms of interventions for the population that might be impacted,” said Mr. Bryan. He suggested that much stronger efforts must be made to prevent this from taking root and growing.

A television report this evening, unhelpfully, in my opinion, narrowed down the area in Kingston where there are people in home quarantine (perhaps they will provide the address tomorrow) – as they did with a small rural community, where a suspected case was identified, a few days ago. This could put people in harm’s way. People have reportedly been threatened.

Another concern was the mental health of the population, Dr. Tufton added, which he plans to address at some point.

Here are a few more things that we learned today:

  • We have 2,500 test kits, and more are on order. Minister Tufton said it is not possible to test all across the island; they must be done by trained staff at the National Influenza Centre.
  • The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie noted that only those with symptoms are being tested; she pointed out that the timing is complicated. When do you test them? Not too soon. Many of those tested are already being quarantined and monitored closely.
  • Contact tracing is being done – the index case (“Patient 1”) had been moving around a great deal, especially in the Bull Bay area). So far contacts for other cases have been traced and tested, and produced negative results. Contacts from two imported cases have been found to be positive and are in isolation. A lot of work is being done across all parishes. The CMO asked people not to resist being tested!
  • The CMO said the Ministry has “come across a lot of influenza” when testing people.
  • All the contacts or confirmed cases “remain stable,” she added.
  • Government has ordered US$2.2 million worth of protective gear and equipment – primarily N5 masks – to arrive next week.
  • The public does not have to pay for tests, as they are done at Government facilities.
  • Five new buses have been purchased to transport nurses to and from work. These should be handed over tomorrow. The Minister called them “certainly a good start.”
  • Ministry officials will meet with funeral home operators to address some of their concerns tomorrow, according to the CMO.
  • The CMO also conceded on television this evening that the situation at the much-beleaguered Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay is “not ideal” as far as intensive care units are concerned. The Hospital is being virtually rebuilt from scratch, after the Ministry has tried to rectify its many (and major) structural problems.
  • There is some discussion over a drug coming from Cuba. Jamaica has strong traditional relations with Cuba. “We would be very interested to learn more about” the drug, said Minister Tufton. I honestly think a “cure” for COVID-19 will take quite some time; and wouldn’t it have to go through testing and trials?

More public education work definitely needs to be done on the ground. Online and through social and traditional media, the communication is amazing. The plan is to have more “town criers” and distribute flyers around communities where residents are unlikely to have Internet access. The Ministry is getting local councilors on board with this. All Jamaicans must be part of the solution!

“I think we are right at the beginning of the outbreak,” said the CMO. “Our planning and our preparations continue.”

“We are asking persons [who are feeling unwell] to stay home,” she added. We have been doing just that. Oh, we are feeling fine!

Here are the numbers for the Ministry, and people who are not feeling well are urged to call them for advice, rather than going to a health facility:

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P.S. The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave Minister Tufton a “big up” on Twitter this morning:

Thank you so much for your leadership – and preparedness – for #COVID19, @christufton. #Jamaica Being ready for #coronavirus is key to pushing it back fast. Together, for a safer world!


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