Reopening of the economy necessary despite COVID-19 threat

MINISTER of Health Dr Christopher Tufton has accepted that the Government’s decision to begin the reopening of the Jamaican economy could lead to an increase in the number of people who test positive for the novel coronavirus in the island, but he argued that this is a risk the country must take.

During a virtual media briefing from the health ministry in Kingston yesterday, Dr Tufton, who announced two new cases, pushing the country’s number of confirmed cases to 509, said the decision to relax the rules, such as those surrounding the operation of bars and churches, was taken based on a examination of the risks.

“[It was] taken in the context of where we think we are as a country… and the need to allow Jamaicans to access certain basic essentials whether it is their place of worship or it is another place of relaxation.

“The protocols that accompany those decisions are intended to mitigate against the risks that are posed from relaxing the restrictions and, frankly speaking, there is no riskfree approach. It really is about how do we gradually resume normality of life while managing the risk of COVID?

“It can’t be that we wait until we have no cases for a prolonged period of time, because as we speak that could be remote based on the spread of the disease and the history of the disease around the world,” added Tufton.

The health minister said he supports the decision to open the economy which was announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Monday despite some criticisms that it could reverse Jamaica’s efforts so far to prevent the community spread of the disease.

“The decisions… are not taken without some appreciation of the risks involved and we have never, certainly in the public health team, including myself, not highlighted that with every decision there are risks, but with every position taken… there are other risks that are involved.

“Yes, there are risks with opening up and allowing persons to congregate. Yes, there are risks with persons who may go to bars, or churches, for that matter. The protocols accompanying those decisions are intended to mitigate against those risks,” said Tufton, who noted that the opening of bars and churches announced by Holness on Monday is a period of trial that could be reversed.

“What is very important, however, is for us to recognise that at some point we are going to have to gradually move to a place where persons can lead normal lives even with COVID present in the population,” declared Tufton.

He was supported by Chief Medical Officer Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, who argued that Jamaica has managed the spread of COVID-19 very well so far with a small fraction of the 509 persons who have tested positive for the virus needing hospitalisation.

“But the reality is that we will get more cases of COVID. We would want to protect the population that is vulnerable because we see that the persons who have developed illness requiring hospitalisation, and those who have died, fall into the at-risk groups in terms that they are elderly, or they have co-morbid illnesses, or sometimes both,” said Dr Bisasor-McKenzie.

“There may be a need to shift our attention at this time from the number of positive cases, because that is going to go up, and start looking at the numbers who are really getting ill and how it is that we cater for these persons to ensure that they are detected early, that they are treated early, and that we can protect them from getting serious illnesses,” added Dr Bisasor-McKenzie.

The CMO argued that Jamaicans should now begin to shift their focus from the number of cases to how the cases are dealt with.

From the 509 positive COVID-19 cases in Jamaica, 113 recovered, while there are nine deaths.

The two latest cases are a 48- year-old man from St Catherine and a 74-year-old man from the Corporate Area.

There are now 387 active cases across the island with no moderately or critically ill persons at this time.

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