Tufton lists Negril party among some of the errors made in management of pandemic

As Jamaica marks two years since the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in the island, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has accepted that some mistakes were made in dealing with the crisis locally, but argued that these were due to the novelty of the virus and not bad management.

Among the decisions which Tufton highlighted as missteps was the decision to allow the staging of Mocha Fest in Negril last May, which was not sanctioned by the Government.

He said this eroded some confidence.

According to Tufton, this gave some Jamaicans the impression that there were different rules based on colour or class.

“In retrospect — and 20/20 vision is perfect vision — some things could have been done differently, but, having said that, the reality is, at the particular point in time when some decisions were made, they were made with imperfect information, on the circumstances at the time, and very importantly, that we did not have any playbook for this particular public health crisis,” Tufton told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

“In fact the playbook was written as we went along, and therefore for anyone to assume that you would have always gotten it right would be naïve, and I certainly never felt that we always got it right,” added Tufton

He said in managing the crisis the Jamaican authorities tried to pivot or adjust their approaches where necessary, based on consultation, expert advice, and what was happening at that point in time, while trying to balance lives and livelihood.

“We changed to address the particular circumstance, whether it was the COVID-19 as a threat or the side effects of COVID, for example, the economics around which COVID restrictions created.” Tufton added that too often people assess Jamaica's COVID-19 response in a manner that does not take context into consideration, and too often critics tend to compare what happens in other countries.

“I think it is important to assess the COVID-19 response over periods of time, in a way that is contextual, and therefore create better understandings of why the strategies we pursued in the early stages had to be different from the strategies in the later stages,” said Tufton.

The health minister charged that the comparisons often do not take into account the particularities facing individual countries at the time.

“For example, if you assess how COVID was dealt with in the United States, in parts of Europe, in the early stages… many would have said Jamaica did far better than them. There were times in those areas where they never took the precautions that we did.

“They were late in starting, COVID-19 cases overran their hospitals, dead bodies were being stored in ice skating rinks …because of some of the pre-planning that we did… we never had that,” declared Tufton as he underscored that Jamaica started planning for COVID-19 from December 2019, almost three months before the first case was identified locally.

“As we went along, those countries pivoted and adjusted and had the resources, in some cases, to do it more effectively. They went through the worst parts and then made up, particularly when technology, like vaccines, was available,” added Tufton as he declared that it was understandable why some people may feel Jamaica started very well in managing the pandemic but dropped the ball along the way.

“I am not saying that some mistakes were not made, but if you place [them in] context, you really have to look at your own journey, even while you learn from others. You can't strictly compare your journey, pound-for-pound, with another country's journey,” he argued.

According to Tufton, Jamaica expected the virus to get to our shores and was well prepared for the first case with clinical and non-clinical measures including mask-wearing and lockdowns.

He said there was a lot of trust in the process initially as the Government communicated, but as the country moved along it was clear that people became fatigued with the restrictions.

“So the COVID journey and the response to the crisis had to be adjusted as we went along. There came a point where it was obvious that the economics of the restrictions had to be accounted for in a more substantial way, because people were literally out of pocket,” said Tufton as he defended the easing of the restrictions last year which led to the third and most deadly wave of the virus across the island.

He argued that the spike was expected and the health authorities were prepared for it, but problems in accessing vaccines derailed some of those plans while an unexpected shortage of oxygen and the fatigue of health-care workers, who had been on the front line for several months, working extended shifts, made matters more challenging.

“The third wave hit an already overburdened health system… and a planned shipment of oxygen was stopped in Florida. So it wasn't a lack of planning, or even a lack of trying, it was the circumstances around where the demands were, and the fact that the imports were stopped,” argued Tufton.

The health minister also admitted that the initial distribution of the vaccines, which saw people joining long lines and waiting hours to be vaccinated, could have been better handled, but blamed this on the fact that the system had been slow to change from a blueprint which has served the island very well over several decades.

Tufton also noted that, while March 10, 2020 was the date the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Jamaica, March 10, 2021 was the date the first vaccine was administered in the island.

“So you are looking at March 10 being a fairly significant date. This March 10 [today] signals, hopefully, the period where the novel coronavirus pandemic is reaching the beginning of the end.

“In a sense, March 10 will go down, for me anyway, as quite significant in the COVID-19 response, the COVID fight, the COVID-19 threat,” said Tufton as he paid tribute to the health-care workers and others, who have been on the front line of this deadly battle for the past two years.

As at march 8, Ministry of Health and Wellness figures state that there are 346 active cases of the novel coronavirus, with 81 hospitalisations. The country has recorded 128,246 posiive cases over the two years with 2, 835 deaths.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton handing out masks in Half-Way St Andrew last month
TUFTON...the play book was written as we went along
BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-Large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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