Back to face masks
PM announces return of safety measure as island weathers COVID-19 fifth wave
Prime Minster Andrew Holness (right) and Member of Parliament for St James East Central Edmund Bartlett cut the ribbon at the handover ceremony of a house to a citizen under the new Social Housing Programme in the St James East Central constituency on Friday. Also participating in the exercise are Beverly Thompson (second right) and Councillor Uvel Graham (Jamaica Labour Party, Spring Mount Division). (Photo: Philp Lemonte)

LATIUM, St James — With the island now experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19, Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Friday announced that mandatory wearing of face masks in public will resume shortly.

He made the announcement while speaking at a handover ceremony of a house to a citizen in the St James East Central constituency, under his Administration’s new Social Housing Programme.

“It is going to be a requirement shortly for all our citizens to return to wearing their masks. As you know, we are in the fifth wave and it will be a continuing feature of life going forward that we will, for some time, be experiencing recurrent bouts of increased infections from this disease. It is called the endemic phase, meaning that the disease is becoming a part of our daily routine,” the prime minister said.

His announcement comes a day after the Ministry of Education reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing in schools against the backdrop of an increase in confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases at schools.

However, in a bulletin issued on Thursday, the ministry also advised that if a student or staff member should come to school without a mask, they should not be denied access.

“Instead, administrators are being asked to assist these persons with a mask to facilitate the teaching and learning process. Administrators are also being reminded to re-sensitise all key stakeholders about the protocols to be observed, including the frequent washing of hands and temperature checks,” the ministry said.

On Friday, Holness again appealed for individuals to act responsibly and get immunised against the respiratory disease.

“After two years everyone should know how to behave in order to protect themselves from the virus. First order of business, get vaccinated,” he stressed.

“Some people don’t want to do it. Some people have done it. What we know is that the vaccination programme has saved lives and has reduced hospitalisations — that is what we know. So some people would have decided to be enlightened about this matter and they would have taken their vaccination, and even their booster shots. Others would have said, ‘I will take my chances’ and they would have probably gotten inoculated naturally, meaning that they would have acquired and obviously be infected and... people are getting ill,” he said.

Holness said he is grateful that so far the new wave of the disease has not created a steep increase in hospitalisations, as was the case during previous phases.

During the height of previous outbreaks, the treatment of other illnesses was compromised and hospital wards were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“Thankfully we’re not seeing the infections and the illness translating, so far, into hospitalisation. We do maintain our capacity of beds in the hospitals but you would note that for the Government to have had this great standing capacity to serve the infections it would have meant that we would have redirected resources from other illnesses and other urgent treatment, and the health sector had to go back to treat with the operations and the services for which other citizens were deprived in order to treat with the pandemic,” the prime minister explained.

“We don’t want to go back to that situation again so I’m urging all Jamaicans to act responsibly. We know what to do. Let me repeat. If you haven’t yet gotten your vaccine, vaccine sites are still open and vaccination is ongoing. Please get vaccinated, wear your mask — particularly if you are indoors — but wear your mask generally. Maintain social distance; and social distance is what you would consider to be spatial awareness, being aware of the people around you and the spaces that you are in,” he advised.

“In Jamaica we don’t pay much attention to personal space, it is not our culture... but personal space is you maintain[ing] a decent distance from each other. Certainly, when they were having these waves and these spikes, you would want to have a little more space and distance but you would also want to be conscious of how you gather in crowds. So if you’re seeing... more than a certain number, let’s say 10 persons gathered, you would want to be careful how you go within crowds. If you’re in public transportation where social distancing may not be possible, ensure that you wear your mask, carry your hand sanitiser with you,” the prime minister encouraged.

He also appealed to individuals who are experiencing any respiratory illness to stay away “from persons who are considered to be in the vulnerable group”.

Additionally, he implored people in the vulnerable group to be even more cautious about how they conduct themselves.

“There are other kinds of respiratory illnesses going around but generally if you are ill, particularly with any form of respiratory illness, you would want to try and take stock. Get tested, stay at home, isolate yourself a little bit until you know exactly what is the situation so that you don’t pass it on to others,” Holness cautioned.

Horace Hinds

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