There is now official confirmation of what Jamaicans have known for some time — that the country is in a fifth wave of novel coronavirus infections.
Thankfully, the effect of the current wave, up to now, has been much milder than previously — not least the fourth wave earlier this year — when serious illness, hospitalisations, and deaths reached alarming levels.
Thursday’s report from the Ministry of Health said there were 288 new COVID-19 cases on the previous day, Wednesday, representing a positivity rate of 27.6 per cent, relative to total tests.
Crucially, hospitalisations from COVID-19 remained manageable at 78 on Wednesday, compared to several hundred at the height of the fourth wave.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has advised Jamaicans that while they cannot afford complacency and should continue to practise safety measures, there is no reason to panic.
Obviously though, Jamaicans and their leaders must maintain a close eye. This newspaper welcomes word from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that “Clearly, if our monitoring shows that we need to take certain preventative actions, we will very quickly and very rapidly mobilise. We have never demobilised; we are still prepared and ready to act ...”
Under no circumstances should Jamaicans forget that up to this week in excess of 3,000 people are known to have died from COVID-19 here, since the first quarter of 2020.
We note particular concern in the education system at a surge of cases in schools. In that regard, the mid-term break, mid to late this week — though for only a few days — has come at exactly the right time.
Education Minister Mrs Fayval Williams tells us that with the recent surge some schools returned to online learning for some children.
The major challenge there is that seniors in schools are now doing external exams. The minister assures us that “We are working to ensure that exam students who test positive are still able to do their test ...”
Thankfully, as is the case in the wider population, we hear that in line with global trends the great majority of COVID-19 cases in schools are not causing serious illness or worse.
This newspaper agrees with the Government that even though school represents a “vulnerable space” because of the large clusters of students and teachers, the country can least afford a return to the closures of the last two years.
We heard from the education minister on Thursday that a return to a mask-wearing mandate in schools is now in effect.
Such a mandate, though, may be more difficult in the wider society. However, such has been the effect of COVID-19 that we believe friendly, yet firm, persuasion will influence many who have abandoned masks to reconsider.
Mr Holness’s advice to “Wear your mask; sanitise [your hands regularly]. If you are ill, stay at home; if you don’t have to go out, then don’t. Be careful of how you move around in crowds — just be very conscious of your environment ...” is as timely now as it has ever been.
Every responsible Jamaican should internalise that message and spread it around as much as is humanly possible. At the end of the day, Jamaicans must accept that we all have a personal responsibility to prevent further spread of the virus.