MOUNT SALEM, St James — While there is concern about the rapid surge in the number of monkeypox cases in Jamaica's main tourist markets, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says there is currently no need for significant restrictions here.
His comments were made on the same day he announced that Jamaica now has its first locally transmitted case of the disease.
"We don't think that it is at the stage now where the public health team should be recommending any major restrictions, except to say that we have to beef up our borders to ensure that we can foretell. Foretell can manage the screening and observance and the surveillance of people coming in, and that has always been the case, but we're gonna have to be more vigilant in this case because of this issue," he said on Friday.
Dr Tufton was speaking with journalists following a ceremony to mark the resumption of construction on the Western Children and Adolescents Hospital in St James and a tour of Cornwall Regional Hospital which is currently under rehabilitation.
He was replying to questions from the Jamaica Observer surrounding developments in the US and Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica's response.
On Thursday, news came that the US is mulling over declaring a public health emergency to bolster federal response to the outbreak of monkeypox. The announcement is expected to free up federal funding and resources to fight the virus that has already infected more than 6,600 Americans.
Dr Tufton said Jamaica's concerns surrounding what is taking place in the US and other markets that Jamaica interacts with will influence how the Government plans on the ground.
"We have to be concerned because, as has been said by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by governments like the US, it is now elevating the status of monkeypox to a public health concern and public health emergency and we have to be concerned about that. So yes, we have it on our radar and monitoring a lot closer," stated Tufton.
More than 21,000 cases of monkeypox have been recorded in 78 countries, including in the Caribbean nations of The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, and Jamaica.
Even though Trinidad has not recorded a case, its Government has ordered some 2,000 doses of vaccine from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to fight the virus. That is a move being explored locally, according to the health minister.
"Yes, we are looking at that. Vaccines are part of the programme that we are working on," he said in response to a query from the Observer.
Dr Tufton said the health ministry will continue to advise the public as information becomes available or as the experts recommend.
On Friday, Jamaica confirmed its first locally transmitted case of the virus, which brings to three the number of monkeypox cases confirmed in the island.
"It, in essence, changes the complexion of the challenge that we face," Tufton told journalists. "In this third case, the individual is being quarantined at home because their facility does allow for it and if the person is cooperative, this is what we will do with the cases."
Tufton said the health ministry's technical team is currently having dialogue on the matter of local transmission of the disease which, he said, was anticipated.
"They are meeting. They are looking at their consulting, including with our bilateral and multilateral partners... looking at their protocols which we have put out already... having a discussion with the medical teams in the respective parishes and reviewing how we address concerns around public information, how we address concerns around vaccines, how we address concerns around the contact tracing and quarantining if necessary," stated Tufton.
The monkeypox virus — which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body — spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling, and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels, and clothing.