Tufton urges J'cans to continue observing safety protocols as country lifts another restriction

Tufton urges J'cans to continue observing safety protocols as country lifts another restriction

Sunday, May 31, 2020

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With Jamaica set to lift another restriction on movement designed to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is reminding the population that everyone has a role to play in mitigating the risks associated with that decision.

Last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the country that the work-from-home order that was imposed in March after the country reported its first case of the novel coronavirus will not be renewed when it expires today.

However, he emphasised that employers and employees must come to a common understanding regarding returning to work on June 1, as workers' circumstances, obligations, and overall safety must be taken into consideration alongside the need to keep the economy going.

Yesterday, Dr Tufton said while public health officials accept the economic need to have the restriction lifted, Jamaicans must be reminded that the health risks are real.

“Simply put, what they represent is the possibility or likelihood of people coming in with the virus, the likelihood of greater spread of the virus because people are able to move around more freely, and the likelihood of a surge because of the consequences of some of those decisions that are taken,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“We recognise in public health that the economy clearly has to position itself to restore normal activity, particularly in the context of the impact of restrictions on jobs and economic activity generally,” Tufton added. “At the same time, it's important that we send a very strong signal to the populace that we are not yet out of the woods, and indeed the lifting of those restrictions comes with risks.

“So really, what we would want as we move to this greater phase of relaxation is firstly that people recognise that this is a risk-based approach. With every action there are associated risks, and those risks must be accounted for and factored in as we prepare to move back to normality, and normality has to be interpreted in a way that is going to account for adjustments, changes, people taking personal responsibility, and recognising that they have a role to play, and at the same time preparing the health system to deal with the likely consequences of those risks manifesting themselves in new cases,” Dr Tufton said.

He pointed to the establishment of COVID-19 wards at all the island's hospitals with more than 300 beds which are now underutilised because of the safety protocols implemented by the health authorities.

“We have trained personnel [and] we're now recruiting another 1,000 or so community health workers, which will become almost a COVID army that will be out in the field in communities providing information and surveillance and so on,” he related. Additionally, he referenced the acquisition of significant numbers of ventilators “in the event we have to treat people in intensive care or high-dependency units”.

He said one the biggest concerns for public health officials now is the possibility of vulnerable communities the elderly, people with underlying health conditions, infirmary and nursing home patients, and residents of poor communities who lack basic amenities like water being impacted by the likely spread of the virus.

Consequently, the ministry's epidemiologist and her team, he said, have completed a map of the vulnerable communities across the country and will now be providing them with “information as it relates to infection prevention and control measures, monitoring, surveillance, and, if necessary, intervention if the virus were to turn up in those communities”.

Noting that vulnerability enhances the risk of hospitalisation, Tufton said to date, Jamaica has done well “because our hospitalisation has been far less than the global average”.

Up to late Friday, Jamaica had recorded 575 cases of COVID-19. Of that number nine patients have died, and 289 have recovered, giving the island a recovery rate of 50.3 per cent.

“Nine deaths out of the number of cases represent about 1.6 per cent. The global average is probably three/four times higher than that. So we've done well under the circumstances, largely because of our primary care the contact tracing, the isolation, the quarantining, and so on. And those systems will have to be in place at an even stronger level to respond to any outbreak, if that outbreak were to occur, whether in an institution, in a community, or in a particular population, or household or otherwise,” Tufton told the Sunday Observer.

“So we have to prepare ourselves, from a public health perspective, and in a sense we kinda anticipate that there is going to be an increase in cases as we gradually restore normality because of the highly contagious nature of the virus and the fact that we will import cases, as has been shown with the cases that have been brought in, whether through the cruise ships or otherwise,” he said.

Last Friday, the health and wellness ministry revealed that the seven new cases reported in the 24 hours leading up to its COVID-19 update were “imported cases from the repatriated Jamaicans who came into the island recently”. Five were cruise ship workers processed in Falmouth.

Yesterday, Tufton pointed out that one of the advantages of the restrictions in the past was that they delayed the virus becoming a major problem while the country prepared.

“But if we let down our guard and are careless or complacent in our lifestyle, the truth is the virus can spread and could possibly become overwhelming and could impact the public health system's capacity to respond, and I dread the thought of people wanting a bed or a ventilator and can't get them, because that would mean people would die. It is a reality that we have to confront, and frankly speaking, public health has a duty to explain and outline to the country that these are real risks, and those risks have to be mitigated against and managed, but [they] cannot be managed solely by public health, it takes all of us to recognise that those risks exist,” he insisted.

“So we should not ignore some of the initial protocols that are in place, such as the wearing of masks in public spaces, proper hygiene and sanitisation. We cannot afford to be complacent, because the experience is that there have been jurisdictions where, having controlled the spread, those countries have seen surges after they've opened up, and Jamaica will always have that risk, it's just how we manage that risk,” Tufton said.

He pointed out that the health and wellness ministry has completed more than 25 protocols and uploaded them to its website.

“These are protocols from work environment to our own clinical procedures, and what they signal is that there is a new normal that is going to have to characterise the public health response within the general society because of the threat of COVID,” he added.

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