This evening’s online press conference produced some revealing information, and more food for thought. Here is an overview:
Jamaica has four new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 30. These are as follows:
- A 87-year-old female from Manchester with a travel history that includes New York;
- A 51-year-old male from St Catherine with a travel history that includes New York;
- A 52-year-old male with no travel history, but who is a close contact (husband) of a visitor from Canada, who reported ill upon her return to Canada; and
- A 56-year-old male from Manchester with no travel history, but who was in contact with tourists from several countries. The investigation on this case continues.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness reported that of the 30 cases, 21 are imported and eight are connected to imported cases. Two are still under investigation.
The average age of confirmed patients to date is 51.7 years, ranging from a minimum age of 24 to a maximum of 87 years old. Most of the confirmed cases (63 per cent) are male.
Minister Christopher Tufton reported that 250 tests have been done so far and that the results of two are pending. On the matter of testing (which has been much discussed on social media) the Ministry has expanded this area. Testing now includes everyone in the island who has reported to hospital with severe upper respiratory ailments, and 61 of these were tested – one is currently under investigation. All health care workers exhibiting symptoms are also tested, as well as all direct contacts of confirmed cases, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic.
The Minister added that 10,000 tests will be done on a new machine approved by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in addition to the current capacity. There are now 3,000 tests at the National Influenza Centre (NIC), and PAHO will be providing an additional 6,000 test kits in the next two or three weeks. It is also going to expand testing sites; currently there is only the NIC.
There has also been much talk on social media that Jamaica is about to “go on lockdown.” Minister Tufton said that this has not been considered, because “the numbers do not justify it…yet.”
As of tonight (midnight on March 27) the communities of Seven and Eight Miles in Bull Bay will be out of quarantine. However, Minister Tufton said the Ministry would “remain vigilant” in this community and may recommend some residents for home quarantine. Corn Piece Settlement in Clarendon remains under quarantine until April 2; so far some fifty households have been visited and the health of over 200 residents checked. Monitoring continues there and two people are in isolation in that community.
Thirteen people are under quarantine in a Government facility and 289 are under home quarantine – not including the residents of the two quarantined communities. Forty-seven people are in isolation.
Several Government ministers participated in this evening’s press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister – who was most emphatic about the need for all those who have traveled to Jamaica from countries where there is local transmission of the virus (which is pretty much everywhere) between March 18 – 23 to self-quarantine at home. There seems to be a major concern that this has not been happening. Prime Minister Holness described this as “the biggest threat” and told these returnees to stay home for two weeks. Those who have returned during that period (over 2,000 of them, according to the PM) should consult this website, where they can complete a form and self-report on their travel and state of health.
The Prime Minister went further, accusing those returnees who are back on the island and not self-quarantining of “the height of irresponsibility…almost deliberate.” He appeared to be aware of specific examples. He said that the Government will be examining all the flight manifests and that the police and health officials would be visiting them at the addresses they gave on the immigration forms, to make sure they are staying home. If they are not, they will be warned and if found to be breaking the rules again they will be charged and housed in a state quarantine facility. The Government will be advertising the relevant flight numbers.
Minister of Finance Dr. Nigel Clarke gave an overview of assistance, noting that COVID-19 would be a “significant economic shock” for Jamaica and globally. He said that Jamaica’s employment numbers would be affected but that the crisis was “temporary in nature” – not related to economic imbalances. We need to ensure that it does not create “permanent problems,” he added. He wants Jamaica to be one of the first countries to “bounce back,” he said.
There has also been some discussion about whether enough protective gear is available for health care workers. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie said an island-wide survey had been conducted and emphasized: “We do have PPE in place.” By the way, the JCF has charged four people with stealing a large amount of protective gear from the Kingston Public Hospital.
But how is the home quarantine going in general? Dr. Bisasor-McKenzie paused for a moment, saying that although it is working, “it can get better.” There are currently 289 people in home quarantine, excluding those in Bull Bay and Corn Piece.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte assured the media that the Government was carefully considering its actions and that all are in accordance with the Constitution. Human rights and constitutional lawyer Dr. Lloyd Barnett, however, has concerns.
Meanwhile, essential businesses are still open: markets, supermarkets, tax and customs offices (of course), gas stations, banks, and pharmacies. Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie suggested that gyms, in particular, should consider “toning down” their operations, or closing. I know some have already closed; I would think these would be breeding grounds for something like COVID-19. There is too little attention being paid in some cases, however, to social distancing (at least three feet apart). We are reminded that the rule regarding public gatherings is restricting us to ten people.
The Prime Minister added that he wanted the National ID System (NIDS) to be “fast tracked” (within the boundaries of laws and Constitution, he added) in the interests of Jamaicans who would be recipients of financial assistance. He wants to hurry up with NIDS (but had better make sure all the “i”s are dotted and “t”s crossed, this time). This, could again be a contentious political issue in the near future. If you recall, the proposed NIDS legislation was ruled unconstitutional almost a year ago, and it was “back to the drawing board” for the Government.
On a more positive note, what of the six patients now recovering? Although they are asymptomatic their tests are still coming back positive – one of the major concerns with COVID-19. Recovering patients can still be “shedding” the virus without symptoms, and may continue to do so for up to thirty days. They must have two negative tests within a 48-hour period to be released. This is why the critical issue of beds is so important. It appears that the tourism industry is stepping up to the plate by offering their rapidly emptying hotel rooms. Many hotels have already closed. We shall see how that turns out.