HEALTH and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has dismissed criticisms that the Government has taken a hands-off approach in its response to the fourth wave of COVID-19, which has now landed over 800 people in hospital, and pushed bed capacity into the red zone.
“I think there is an impression given that we have not taken steps to manage the process to ensure that there are some restrictions, and to balance the lives and the livelihood that we speak of. The reality is we do have restrictions in place, those are quite clearly outlined. They are being enforced, but it is not so easy to enforce it in every single part of the country when there are other issues around enforcement [crime],” Dr Tufton said at a COVID update press conference Thursday evening.He pointed out that the Disaster Risk Management Act remains in force, and that the ministry continues to fortify hospitals, support medical staff, and push the vaccination agenda. “It would be incorrect to suggest that we have been insensitive to what is happening,” he said.The minister again appealed to Jamaicans to get vaccinated, pointing to the current statistics for deaths from COVID-19, which show that of the 2,024 deaths recorded between March 1, 2021 and January 19, 1,993 were unvaccinated people, 14 partially vaccinated, and 17 fully vaccinated. At this point, 73 per cent of the population remains unvaccinated.Of the 14 hospitals which are in the red alert zone, nine have surpassed 100 per cent bed capacity, and the others are at more than 85 per cent. General capacity is also in trouble, with five hospitals on red alert, at over 84 per cent capacity for admissions, and six are at 74 per cent. Hospitals have been instructed to switch to emergency mode, and elective surgeries have been put off.“The picture remains very concerning,” Dr Tufton said.Up to Wednesday, of the 117 moderately ill persons in hospital, 112 were unvaccinated, 58 out of the 61 severely ill persons were unvaccinated, and 17 of the 20 critically ill were unvaccinated, according to the ministry.Dr Tufton stressed that the Government has gone to extremes to convince persons to take the jab: “We have sought to overcome every objection raised — impotence, infertility, chip in the vaccine — we have offered the brands that people prefer, but nevertheless so many people have chosen not to get vaccinated. Well, this is the evidence for you, hospitalisations and death, is largely, overwhelmingly, almost exclusively linked to persons who are unvaccinated. I don't know if this message can be any clearer.”On Wednesday, there were 860 new cases of the virus over 24 hours, bringing the cumulative number of cases since March 2020 to 116,994. Chief Medical Officer Dr Jaquiline Bisasor McKenzie advised that there are 14,478 active cases affecting 599 out of the country's 783 communities, and that the fourth wave of infections is still on an upward trajectory, having now surpassed the peak of the third wave.She warned that although the Omicron variant is said to be mild, for some people it still causes severe illness, coupled with the threat of the Delta, which may still be in the population.Two thousand five hundred and sixty-one Jamaicans have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the daily positivity rate is now brushing the 50 per cent mark, 10 times higher than the World Health Organization benchmark.