We are bombarded with news on COVID-19 from all directions. There are heartbreaking personal stories from all over the world on social media. I feel that we are just bracing ourselves for a big wave, here. Have we managed to “flatten the curve”? Who knows. Have we been testing enough? I am concerned about the second point, as are others.
I just watched this evening’s update at the Office of the Prime Minister. Here are a few key points – you can watch the whole press briefing on Facebook here.
Will the next press briefing be done remotely? I wonder…Since (a major takeaway from the briefing) “We are rapidly approaching the phase of community transmission” (in the words of Prime Minister Andrew Holness). That’s a whole new ballgame.
Currently, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, we are in the “cluster” stage – three such clusters have been identified.
- We now have 21 confirmed cases. The two new ones are a 61 year-old, who traveled to several countries, and a 51 year-old from Westmoreland, who was found through contact tracing.inister @ has once again urged an end to stigma associated with #, as JA imposes new rules in the national response efforts and which address the needs of those most vulnerable.
- 14 cases are imported, 6 are connected to imported cases, and one (a 60 year-old woman in Portland) is “under investigation” (is this one of the clusters?)
- There are 13 males and 8 females. The average age is 48 years old.
- There are four test results currently pending. 542 contact traces have been done.
- 18 people are in quarantine and 51 in isolation in a government facility.
- 232 are in home quarantine – not including those in Bull Bay and Corn Piece.
- Everyone who has entered Jamaica since last Wednesday, March 18 should self-quarantine for an additional 14 days after the initial seven days has expired. Many, the Prime Minister stressed, did not go into quarantine as ordered. Some were seen hugging up their friends at the airport on arrival! This is mandatory and people can be charged if they breach this rule.
- “A significant number do not want to follow the quarantine rules,” said the Prime Minister. However, the airline manifests will be “scrubbed,” he said, checks done and enforcement carried out if necessary.
- Effective Wednesday, March 25, there will be a further ban on gatherings – now not more than 10.
- School closures are extended until the end of the Easter Term.
- As of Wednesday (March 25) citizens aged 75 and over are prohibited from leaving their homes for 14 days, subject to exemptions. These exceptions, the prime minister said will be fully explained when the measure is drafted.
- Additionally, public sector workers aged 65 and older are to work from home as of Wednesday (March 25). The work at home order for the public sector remains in place for another 14 days.
- Health officials are broadening their testing, to include all severe acute respiratory illnesses at all hospitals, including those with no link to any confirmed case or travel history with flu-like illnesses. Still reviewing testing protocols, said the CMO.
- Patients 1 and 2 are asymptomatic and discharge testing has begun for them. To discharge a patient, two negative tests are required; however, so far they are still testing positive.
- 316 additional beds have been designated for COVID-19 response wards. The Government will be procuring more beds and equipment.
- Three of 30 ventilators ordered arrived today. A US$2.2 million contract has also been approved for protective gear and equipment (primarily N5 masks) and additional ICU beds are also on order.
Now, some practical tips from the Ministry:
As Jamaicans would know by now, many businesses, supermarkets and shops are spraying our hands with sanitizers as we walk in. The Ministry is reminding businesses that they should only use sanitizer in a container that is labeled, and should not make any “home-made” mixes of chemicals. They should also let the customer know what they are using (some people are allergic, etc). If there are facilities for customers to wash their hands with soap and water (my preferred method) they should make them available. Importantly, entrance to the premises should not be denied to those who refuse the sanitizing!
Note: the sanitizers should have a minimum of 62% alcohol content.
Meanwhile, the same hygiene rules apply:
- Maintain distance of at least 1 metre (3 feet) from persons who are coughing or sneezing [or from anyone at all, if possible]
- Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and discard it, then perform hand hygiene immediately
- Refrain from touching your face, as best as possible
- Perform hand hygiene frequently
Meanwhile, the “fake news” mill churns along, in particular on WhatsApp. Some of them are quite ridiculous and from unknown sources (of course), but people seem to believe them. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has denied that there will be a complete lockdown of business across the island. The Government is, however, encouraging both public and private sectors to do what they can to have employees work from home, and to reduce their interactions with the public. Supermarkets, pharmacies and markets (from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.) will remain open, as these provide our “necessities” of life. Restaurants are encouraged to focus on deliveries and takeouts. Banking, shipping, and oil distribution entities will also remain open. Incoming cargo will continue operation.
So, Jamaica is not being shut down in terms of business.
Then there are what are being labeled the “covidiots” – that is, those people who seem to think that COVID-19 concerns don’t have anything to do with them, and they can do as they please. Two good examples of this are the popular deejay Elephant Man (who lied about where he had traveled to immigration officials and then, after insisting he was in home quarantine afterwards, was allegedly seen out and about town). The second was a 50 year-old man calling himself “Bad Boy Trevor,” who held a pool party in Kingston last night, contravening laws about public gatherings. The former was charged with breaching the Immigration Act, which mandates travelers to make truthful declarations; and was placed in quarantine at a government facility by health officials. The fine: a ludicrous J$100! That needs to be reviewed. The latter (“Bad Boy”) was arrested, along with a 22 year-old, on various charges under the Disaster Risk Management Act, the Spirit License Act and the State of Emergency Act.
Anyone who suspects that they have had exposure to COVID-19 and are displaying symptoms should self-isolate immediately and contact the Ministry of Health & Wellness at 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683) or 888-754-7792 for further instructions. The email address is: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, it seems to be a very mixed picture. A Twitter account in Barbados (@KevzPolitics) keeps us up to date. The total number of cases for the region is at least 555 confirmed cases, as of lunchtime today – but by tomorrow these numbers may have changed, of course. As you can imagine, the tourism industry in the region is in virtual free fall at this point.
- Anguilla has no cases.
- Antigua and Barbuda now has three cases, all “imported.”
- Aruba has nine cases.
- The Bahamas has imposed drastic measures today – a 24-hour curfew until March 31st. All airports and seaports are closed. A total lockdown. Public beaches are closed and only essential travel to supermarkets, doctor’s offices and pharmacies is allowed. The Bahamas has four confirmed cases. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis does not think Bahamians are taking COVID-19 seriously enough.
- Barbados has 17 confirmed cases. The last three were all “imports” from the UK. It has bans on public gatherings and Barbadians are required to go into self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
- Belize’s first case was recorded on Ambergris Caye, where a state of emergency has been declared. Two days ago Belize closed its border with Mexico.
- Bermuda has six cases – four new cases reported on Sunday.
- Bonaire has no cases.
- British Virgin Islands has no cases.
- Cayman Islands has three cases and has already closed its borders to tourists. This evening a curfew from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. was announced. It has four cases including one death – an Italian cruise ship passenger. The ship, the Costa Luminosa, has been a nightmare for the Caribbean.
- Cuba has closed its borders to non-residents. It has 40 confirmed cases, and one death, according to the Miami Herald, which also reports: “Around 30,000 tourists who have not yet left the island will be isolated in hotels.”
- Curaçao has three cases, with one death.
- Dominica has recorded its second case in two days – both had traveled from the United Kingdom.
- Dominican Republic now has 245 cases, with three deaths. The average age is 45 years old.
- Grenada’s first case announced yesterday was a traveler from the UK.
- Guadeloupe’s total has increased to 62. Its first case was reported on March 13.
- Guyana has 20 cases, plus one death.
- Haiti now has six cases. Schools, universities and factories are closed and a state of Public Health Emergency has been declared.
- Martinique now has 53 cases, and one death. The French Parliament has adopted an Emergency Health Bill and the numbers tested in the French Caribbean are reportedly higher.
- Montserrat has just one case.
- Puerto Rico has 31 cases as of yesterday, .
- The Governor General of Saint Lucia has declared a State of Emergency and has now closed its two airports to incoming flights from tonight until April 5. It has three cases, the latest being a 43 year-old woman who traveled from the U.S.
- Saint Kitts & Nevis still does not have any cases, but has set up travel restrictions on non-nationals arriving from several countries.
- Saint Martin has 8 cases.
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has just one case to date.
- Sint Maarten has two cases.
- Suriname has five cases.
- Trinidad & Tobago has 51 cases – one from Tobago – and all are imported so far. The number includes 40 people from a cruise ship. It closed its borders on Sunday night until further notice.
- Turks & Caicos Islands’ one case did not have a recent travel history, which suggests there may be more in the community perhaps?
- U.S. Virgin Islands has 17 cases.
On a personal note, cloistered at home as members of the “vulnerable” population, we veer from one mood to another. I think we are happiest when we are plugged into one of the various streaming services. I am quite happy staying home (for close to two weeks now!) but would love the option of meeting a friend for coffee, at least. Even that is out of the question. So is a walk in Hope Gardens, which is closed.
And, for the time being, my birthday (tomorrow) is postponed. That’s easy. I can pretend I haven’t reached that age – at least for now.
Stay safe and well, everyone. Above all, remember social distancing (a phrase that two or three months ago we were not familiar with at all).