Health officials split on probability of fifth COVID-19 wave
JAMES... there will very likely be a spike

LEADERS in the health sector have given mixed views about whether Jamaica could experience a fifth surge in novel coronavirus cases as the country approaches another month without Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) measures.

Their views come as reports retrieved at several hospitals by the Jamaica Observer show that there are currently little to no COVID-19 cases.

At Spanish Town Hospital there are currently 28 suspected cases and a positive case; St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital only has seven suspected cases; May Pen Hospital has approximately two suspected cases; and Mandeville Regional Hospital has no cases.

Though there were no solid numbers provided for COVID-19 cases for the last few weeks, the CEOs at the hospitals explained that they have mostly seen a decline.

Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) President Dr Brian James shared that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases, given the presence of the Omicron BA.2 strain of the virus in the country.

“That is what we’ve seen from many countries where people travel to and from Jamaica, like the UK, US, and even China. So there will very likely be a spike,” he said.

“What we should do is ensure that we implement the lessons that we’ve learnt from our last two years with the pandemic. We cannot make those lessons go to waste. We should ensure that we limit the possibility of spread throughout the communities as much as possible, following the well-proven precautions — the wearing of masks, avoiding crowds, and hand-washing,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which confirmed the presence of the new variant last Thursday, of 89 samples sequenced between January 1 and March 4, 2022, two or 2.3 per cent were the BA.2 variant of Omicron, while 97.7 per cent were the BA.1 strain.

The Government lifted all measures under the DRMA on March 18, after two years of health protocols implemented to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Additionally, although mask-wearing was no longer mandatory, Jamaicans were advised to wear them in enclosed spaces until April 15.

Prior to and even after those orders, Jamaicans have been urged to take personal responsibility to protect themselves from COVID-19, but James believes people are taking the wrong message from the authorities.

“I think the reversal of the mask mandate may have given people the impression that COVID is over and it clearly isn’t. That’s why we at MAJ have been saying it’s not over. Jamaica has no special immunity to COVID. People think that the fact that they are tired of COVID and there is COVID fatigue that has something to do with how the virus behaves. It does not, at all,” James said.

“The virus has a mandate to infect its host and replicate as much as it can and it does not care whether the host is tired or fed up or fatigued, and Jamaica is particularly vulnerable because only 24 per cent of our population is fully vaccinated,” he added.

Meanwhile, Nurses Association of Jamaica President Patsy Edwards-Henry, who shared a different view from James, argued that, even with the presence of the new variant, the country might not see a spike in cases.

“What we have noticed since the beginning of the year, even with the fourth wave, the hospitalisation rates steadily started to decline, so I do believe that, while we do have COVID- 19 with us, we may not see a spike; we may see intervals of increases and then it goes back down,” she said.

“But, based on the epidemiology of viruses, I’m not expecting us to have another out of control spike — not that it cannot happen — but we are hoping that as we gradually learn to live with COVID, that it now becomes endemic instead of pandemic,” she said.

The Observer also tried to obtain COVID-19 reports from University Hospital of the West Indies, Kingston Public Hospital, and Princess Margaret Hospital but to no avail.

Up to Sunday, Jamaica recorded 70 new cases and a positivity rate of 7.7 per cent.

Brittny Hutchinson

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