Full speed ahead, Mr Bartlett


Full speed ahead, Mr Bartlett

Thursday, January 14, 2021

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Mr Edmund Bartlett, the tourism minister, this week announced that urgent steps are being taken to ramp up Jamaica's COVID-19 testing capacity, prodded, no doubt, by a decision of the United States that could further jolt our tourism industry.

The US, which is under the gun, so to speak, from the novel coronavirus, says as of January 26, 2021 it will be requiring all airline passengers from international destinations to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding flights to the US.

Just before that, the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom similarly required all individuals flying to those countries to present negative test results to facilitate entry or to avoid self-quarantine.

We are not yet clear why the COVID-19 testing initiative is being spearheaded by the tourism ministry and not the health and wellness ministry — although it will be one of the partners involved.

But, then, just as well, because the health ministry has not shown any affinity for speed when it comes to the business of providing testing facilities for Jamaicans, even as the public health entities were being overwhelmed by rising demand for tests.

Indeed, it took from August 2020 — when the ministry first said it would approve private laboratories to carry out tests — to this week for it to approve eight private labs, most of them just this month.

Jamaica has over 30 private labs.

On October 16, 2020, we wrote in this space that: “In the best of circumstances the Ministry of Health and Wellness is having a rough time coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic, and particularly the volume of testing for the disease as community transmission overwhelms us.

“We therefore find it hard to understand reports that private laboratories, at least some of them, have still not been accredited to carry out testing for SARS-CoV-2, as it is called.”

We urged the Government to tell the country why it feared working with adequately equipped private labs to make faster, more efficient, and accurate COVID-19 tests available to Jamaicans virtually on demand.

Later that month, the ministry announced that three private labs — Caribbean Genetics (CARIGEN), Microlabs Limited and Technological Solutions Limited — had been approved to offer testing for COVID-19.

The big drawback with the Jamaican Government is that it is not yet in a position in which it can invite citizens to test for COVID-19 at will, because the public health facilities just can't cope.

We were not surprised to hear allegations that some doctors were going ahead and offering testing services to their patients. It is well known that where demand is greater than supply, people move to fill the gap.

The ministry just has to be more nimble when it comes to handling the COVID-19 issues. With Jamaica relying so heavily on tourism to bring us the “likkle change”, as someone put it, we can see why Minister Bartlett can't afford to sit back and wait.

In the beginning, understandably, the Government had to be extremely cautious to ensure that the tests were reliable and met international standards approved by the United Nations World Health Organization. With the approved antigen tests, that is no longer the problem.

Truth is, we don't care who does it, as long as it gets done.

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