Re-entry relief

Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday said the health authorities are encouraged by the relatively low numbers of COVID-19 infections which have been detected since the Government started a phased re-entry programme on April 20 allowing Jamaicans to come home.

The figures, Dr Tufton said, gives the Ministry of Health and Wellness an indication of the challenge it faces, and provides an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments as the country prepares for more aggressive re-entry of Jamaicans from overseas as of June 15.

A total of 4,278 Jamaicans have returned home, with 989 of those returning since June 1, on 22 passenger flights into Kingston and Montego Bay. Of the number of Jamaicans who came home under the programme 49 cruise ship workers and 26 from passenger flights have tested positive.

Dr Tufton, the health and wellness minister, shared the information during a digital press conference, adding that there are six new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing to 611 the total number of cases recorded since the first one in March. Two of the six new cases are from St Elizabeth, two from St James, and one each from Portland and St Catherine.

A total of 408 patients, or 66.8 per cent, have recovered from the virus, and 45 test results are pending.

Dr Tufton also sought to address a report carried by this newspaper yesterday that several Jamaicans being monitored at a University of the West Indies (UWI) student housing facility in Mona were restive, as they believe their test results were being mismanaged by the ministry.

He said there may be some ambiguity or lack of understanding surrounding the protocol for testing and results, pointing out that results are generally returned in 24 to 36 hours. However, he said a number of factors can cause a hold-up.

“This period may be lengthened on occasion for a number of reasons, including a delay in the transportation of samples, samples held as more processing is required, or retesting is required because samples may be compromised or an invalid report was generated by the machine… this process, even though efficient, does have downtime, and contributes to delays… it’s not something that we are happy about; we don’t want to inconvenience persons who are waiting for results, and we regret where persons have to wait, but it’s not a precise science because of the mechanical and the limited staff that we have,” Dr Tufton said.

Approximately 50 people are being housed at the newly commissioned quarantine facility.

Seven of them who spoke with the Jamaica Observer were reportedly transferred to the UWI facility from Bahia Principe hotel in St Ann, due to the Government’s contract with the hotel for the arrangement having expired. They complained that bungling by the health ministry had caused their time at the university facility to be extended.

The ministry said a total of 15,428 tests have now been done, 325 of them over the past 24 hours up to yesterday.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton said the number of positive results which have come from people returning to the island suggests that Jamaicans overseas have been taking the necessary precautions to prevent infection.

“We know when persons return there will be risk of exposure. We do expect positive cases, but so far we haven’t had a large number of cases. It means that the persons who are coming in have a large responsibility because they may be in an incubation period and they may become positive during the time when they’re at home, therefore that risk has to be managed by personal responsibility,” the health minister said.

Dr Tufton also emphasised that the health authorities are fully behind the decisions taken by the Andrew Holness Administration for reopening the economy while recognising that a balance must be struck with maintaining safety precautions.

“We work as one Government,” he stated.

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