COVID-19 in Jamaica, Physical Distancing, and a Tale of Two Press Briefings tv

Here are a couple of useful websites, before I forget to share them: This one is for people to do a self-assessment for COVID-19, and for employers to check on employees’ status. There is another general one that is updated with local and global states, where you should self-report if you have arrived in Jamaica between March 18 and 23. It includes a map showing that Kingston and St. Andrew has the most cases (18) and Clarendon (where the community of Corn Piece remains under quarantine) has 14 cases.

At Tuesday evening’s virtual press briefing (April 7, World Health Day) at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor McKenzie described those who are not practicing physical distancing (the former term was social distancing) as “our weakest link that makes us all vulnerable.” I had asked a question about it on the Zoom platform (which works well). “Our concern is that people are not listening,” added the CMO. “We cannot over-emphasize it,” added the Minister, urging Jamaicans to respect the law and understand the great public health risk.

The Ministry press briefing was long but businesslike and informative, and the journalists’ questions were focused.

Partnerships are key, and at the Tuesday press briefing Minister Tufton signed three agreements that will help boost Jamaica’s capacity to deal with COVID-19. One agreement is for 80 final year medical students to volunteer by managing calls to the hotlines at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Call Centre. This is good news. Communications are so important and these students will have the medical knowledge to be able to deal with calls.


The second one was an agreement with the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) for a public-private partnership, whereby private doctors will manage the care of patients with two common chronic conditions (diabetes and hypertension) currently using the public health system. Those doctors should register their interest at the Ministry and details will be advertised. The agreement will include 100,000 N95 masks for the doctors, at a cost of US$2.2 million. 500,000 masks recently arrived in Jamaica and more are expected to follow.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton (right) signs a Memorandum of Understanding with President and Chief Executive Officer, Andrews Memorial Hospital, Dr. Lindon Leach (left), during a digital press conference at the Ministry, in Kingston, on Tuesday (April 7). Observing are: Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dunstan Bryan and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie. (Photo: Donald De La Haye/JIS)

The third agreement signed was with Andrews Memorial Hospital (a private hospital in uptown Kingston) to provide an “overspill” for Kingston Public Hospital and reduce overcrowding there. Andrews has 32 beds for non-COVID patients and another ward for those with severe respiratory conditions.

  • Jamaica has 63 confirmed cases (no new cases in the past two days);
  • 30 of these cases were imported and 22 import-related, with 11 under investigation;
  • The average age of the patients is 49 years (the youngest being 12 years old and the oldest 87 years old);
  • 29 confirmed cases are females and 34 are males;
  • Four patients have died (one yesterday) – 13 have recovered and been released;
  • 41 persons are in quarantine at a government facility and 61 are in isolation;
  • Two results are pending from the National Influenza Centre as of Thursday night;
  • There has been a “significant increase” (4,500 in total) in the number of returnees self-reporting to the Ministry. Out of an estimated 7,000 arriving from March 18 to 23, 1,500 have left the country. So the Ministry continues to seek some 1,000.
  • The CMO is looking at the four most recent new cases, all in Kingston & St. Andrew and will have more to say on these.
  • “Everyone counts” is the theme touted by Minister Tufton – everyone must get involved. The Government is working with key stakeholders.
  • Minister Tufton says he is still anticipating “community spread.”
  • Testing has been expanded to include close contacts of confirmed cases; all those with severe respiratory infections or pneumonia and influenza-like symptoms across the island; and health care workers exposed to cases or with symptoms. “We want to get the samples in,” said the CMO. (Are there challenges with this?)
  • The National Indoor Stadium will provide space for 72 beds as a field hospital for those with mild symptoms. The Jamaica Defense Force is retrofitting it at a cost of J$183 million, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • At least one additional field hospital in central/western Jamaica is being planned.
  • The CMO described “clusters” of infections that include two tourism workers. Minister Tufton called the 11 cases being investigated“a little concerning.”
  • The CMO is expecting more cases, most of which would be mild, that would be treated at home in isolation and closely monitored by public health officials.
  • The Minister reiterated his concern about stigma and discrimination – “a significant threat,” he suggested. The model sees a very small minority of Jamaicans needing hospital care, he said. “There is no value in discriminating…Help them to overcome it because they will get better and reintegrate into the society,” he added.
  • The CMO sees cases doubling every eight days, according to the model – we are “still traveling along that path,” she noted – but it just takes one case for that to change dramatically, so caution is required.
  • The planned mobile testing units will be “up and running this week.” 

The press briefing last night (Wednesday, April 8) was held at the Office of the Prime Minister’s refurbished Media Centre, which is very nice. The Prime Minister’s address was long, rambling – and half way through my concentration slipped. However, boiling it down to the salient points (and additional information that transpired today) – I hope I have not missed anything:

  • Curfew hours have been restructured for before, during and after the long Easter weekend. Curfew hours after the holiday will, for some reason, be reduced by two hours nightly (from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.)
  • Hours for markets have changed. These are “high risk areas,” says the PM.
  • Stay at home (“The virus can’t move without us”). The Prime Minister seems to think we have been very obedient in this respect.


  • New rules on the wearing of masks (from April 8 to 21): obligatory for people who are sneezing and coughing; for seniors aged 65 years and older; people caring for those with symptoms; people with underlying health conditions; and strongly recommended if going to public places such as markets and public transportation.
  • Senior citizens over 70 years old must stay at home, except for one trip per day for essentials.
  • The approach is to find a “balance” between public health and economic activity – constant review, calibration, and fine tuning. It remains to be seen whether this is even possible. Can one have one’s cake and eat it too? Which is more important, human lives or money?
  • Pause and reflect on Jesus over the Easter weekend (if you are a Christian, that is).
The Marella Discovery 2 anchored and refueled at Port Royal near Kingston, but the 45 Jamaican ship workers were not allowed to land. (Photo: Gleaner)
  •  On the persistent pleas of Jamaicans stranded overseas who are anxious to return home, the PM mooted a possible “controlled re-entry” of Jamaicans. However, if they are allowed in, they would have to go into government quarantine and may have to pay for some of it, he suggested.
  • Neither Minister Tufton nor the Prime Minister wanted to comment on the case of the 45 Jamaican ship workers aboard the Marella Discovery 2, who were denied landing in Kingston last week and are now on their way to Portugal.
  • The Ministry of Health and Wellness is not using rapid test kits. 815 tests have been done.
  • We have very little information on the fourth patient who died. I don’t recall that the Prime Minister offered condolences to the family at the press briefing.
  • Sandals has offered a small hotel with some 50 rooms for patients with mild symptoms.
  • The Ministry of Health and Wellness will not be using President Trump’s much-vaunted medication, hydroxychloroquine.
The awesome Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie responding to questions at a digital press conference on Wednesday (April 8) at Jamaica House. (Photo: Adrian Walker/JIS)

As one might expect, sales of Easter “bun and cheese” are down. Nevertheless, please enjoy your Easter weekend, as best you can.

Minister Tufton toured western Jamaica today to take a look at COVID-19 preparations there. A new isolation unit has been prepared at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, and the recently built accident and emergency section has been converted into a COVID-19 ward. The hospital can now house up to 20 Covid-19 patients, with trained and equipped staff. ⁣(Photo: Twitter)


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