Sports physician Dr Akshai Mansingh says though authorities should be warning spectators about the importance of proper hygiene while attending the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs) this week, patrons must also exercise common sense to safeguard against viruses.
This is the first Champs to be staged with no restrictions on attendance since the COVID-19 pandemic and Jamaicans are returning to life as normal, but there has been a growing belief that the virus has completely left society.
This is why Mansingh has urged caution during Champs as its expected large turnout of fans, especially on the final day, poses the potential for it to be a "super spreader" event for not only COVID-19 but other flu-like viruses. This is especially so because of Jamaica's low vaccination figures.
"I think there's a responsibility for the organisers and the Ministry of Health and Wellness to warn people, but there's also the responsibility of people to have common sense," Mansingh told the Jamaica Observer. "You can't ignore what's happened in the last three years. Even if nobody warned you, use your own common sense — you're intelligent people — and realise what to do. But there should be public announcements [and] they should be on every ticket – just a little reminder that flus in general can be reduced by proper hygiene.
"You've got COVID going around, yes, but you've also got this other flu going around. We've all now been sensitised to how to prevent transmission of infection like that. That is obviously with maintaining hygiene, washing your hands, wearing a mask if you feel like you're susceptible, et cetera, et cetera."
Mansingh mentioned the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in February as an example of how poor hygiene in public spaces can have an effect on the spread of viruses.
"If you look at, for example, Trinidad carnival the other day, I am told that there's been an explosion of a viral transmission of flu-like diseases, including COVID," he said. "Their population is better vaccinated than ours and their health system can cope with it better than ours but what our health system really can't manage is another hit."
Many conspiracy theorists argue that COVID-19 was just a myth while those who believe in its presence in society may argue that it was just another strain of the common flu, and for that reason they say that vaccinations are unnecessary. But Mansingh says only properly vaccinated societies have the luxury of treating the virus this casually.
"COVID is another flu in those populations where you're properly vaccinated. Jamaica, remember, is still very , ry poorly vaccinated," he said. "The susceptibility of this thing to spread around is still there. It's not that people don't get COVID, it's just that people who have been vaccinated are less likely to get into serious medical problems with COVID.
"The other thing is that there's a terrible flu going around Jamaica which is not COVID but it's causing people to cough for two to three weeks and making them very sick. That's the reality. That's going around Jamaica right now."
But Mansingh is also aware of the need for people to enjoy themselves in large social gatherings.
"On the other side, you have to get back to some amount of normalcy. Jamaica is one of the countries with the longest curfews imposed on its people so there's a level of freedom that people have gotten accustomed to, and there's a level of education that's taken place amongst our people on hygiene and prevention of transmission. So, if you have a reason for people like the Ministry of Health and Wellness to put that information out there [stating]: 'Guys, remember, there are ways to prevent this [so] just be careful, and so on [then the public should take heed.] But I don't think in this day and age we can afford to prevent people from congregating and having fun."
Champs, which runs from Tuesday to Saturday this week, has had an average attendance of around 35,000 spectators at the National Stadium in Kingston.
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