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FOURTH WAVE

Tufton confirms start to new phase in local COVID outbreak, urging J’cans to be more conscious

Published:Friday | December 31, 2021 | 12:12 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (left) presents Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Clifton Reader with a batch of 5,000 COVID-19 home-testing kits for tourism workers during a ceremony at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (left) presents Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Clifton Reader with a batch of 5,000 COVID-19 home-testing kits for tourism workers during a ceremony at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, St James, on Thursday.

WESTERN BUREAU: It is safe to say that Jamaica has now entered the fourth COVID-19 wave, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has confirmed to The Gleaner. Impelled by the high rate of increase in COVID-19 cases, the minister made...

WESTERN BUREAU:

It is safe to say that Jamaica has now entered the fourth COVID-19 wave, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has confirmed to The Gleaner.

Impelled by the high rate of increase in COVID-19 cases, the minister made the declaration yesterday shortly after handing over 5,000 self-test kits for tourism workers to Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Clifton Reader.

“As we go into the fourth wave, it is important that Jamaicans recognise the importance of protecting themselves and we are at a point where as a country, we have to come to terms with the need to ensure those who take the time to get vaccinated are not in any way, shape or form placed at a disadvantage by those who are not vaccinated,” he added after the disclosure.

Tufton noted that the reproductive rate for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has increased over the last week. Between December 12 and 18, the country was in the green zone of less than five per cent positivity, with the rate falling as low as 3.8 per cent.

“However, last week, December 19 to 25, the positivity rate was 8.8 per cent, and so far this week, the positivity rate [has been] 21 per cent,” Tufton explained during the ceremony at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

The reproductive rate is just under two per cent and well over the one per cent that the ministry would like to see, he noted. This situation has been cemented by the 365 positive cases reported locally on Wednesday.

“That’s a 32.5 per cent positivity, and 38 per cent of that number is imported cases, and are not just tourists, but persons coming into Jamaica, which is quite high,” he revealed to the gathering, which included a number of tourism industry stakeholders.

Eighty per cent of the new cases, he said, were in the Kingston and St Andrew region as well as St Catherine and were from a total of 1,290 tests done and for which results were provided on Wednesday.

Admitting that it was quite clear that the country was moving in the wrong direction, he qualified his statement, stating that this was, however, anticipated or expected to happen going into the New Year, particularly in the context of the new highly transmissible Omicron strain.

Hospitalisation rates have also increased to 45 persons per day, up from 36.

“But in a sense, it is not going up as fast as the positivity rate is moving, which is again in keeping with the projections that this variant strain is not as lethal,” Tufton argued.

However, he was also quick to point out that large numbers will mean proportionally more persons likely to be hospitalised, adding that the ministry was keeping a close eye on the unfolding situation.

Adding that his aim was not to create panic, he urged Jamaicans to be conscious of what was happening, which is why, he said, the protocols are so critical and the reasoning behind the introduction of self-testing.

The Government has plans to initially purchase 40,000 test kits valued at $56 million.

The move has been welcomed by the JHTA head, who says that screening is an important facet of the protocols, and the kits will allow that access.

“If we recognise that a staff has a certain symptom, a behavioural pattern, we can just take them out or we can just do random sampling, or as the scientists prefer to say, a stratified random sampling ... . So you can detect if staff are positive, and then you can apply one of the more rigorous tests to confirm and then you can quarantine those team members,” said the JHTA head.

Reader called for the kits to be made available through the commercial system so that persons displaying symptoms can test themselves.

His comments are bolstered by the fact that hotel staff were registering a 70 per cent vaccination rate across the board, with craft markets and attraction operators being in the 75 to 78 per cent range.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com