Tufton defends Jamaica's COVID-19 protocols

Tufton defends Jamaica's COVID-19 protocols

Says major source of infections is from people returning from North America

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, August 08, 2020

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HEALTH Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is defending the effectiveness of the measures implemented by the Jamaican Government to contain COVID-19, pointing out that a major source of the infection level which the country is now seeing is from people returning from North America.

Dr Tufton was speaking against the background of yesterday's level-three advisory by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cautioning American citizens against travelling to the island at this time.

Dr Tufton, however, stressed that Jamaica has done well and that there is no question that “a big source of the virus is north”.

“The risk of travelling to those popular jurisdictions — North America included — is a real risk, and that's where most of our exposure levels have come from. In a sense we have to take the same posture even while we preserve the other linkages that are necessary for business or otherwise,” he stated in a Jamaica Observer interview yesterday.

Still, he said, countries reserve the right to protect their nationals. “I don't know if you can force a sovereign country to say things in your favour if they perceive a threat to them. Therefore, even if we have concerns, express them we can, but at the same time we have to respect the sovereign right of countries as we would like to be respected in terms of our own decisions,” he said.

The health minister said a unique situation exists now where more Jamaicans want to come home from the US than those who are seeking to travel there.

“As a consequence, once the restrictions were eased we found that a lot more persons were seeking to come back home [as] we clearly have an obligation to our citizens and we can't keep them out forever,” he said.

Dr Tufton said the Government is trying to manage the risks that are associated with the heavy demand from Jamaicans to come back home, given the extent of the virus in the US.

On Thursday, the US lifted the “do not travel” advisory which it issued four months ago, warning US citizens not to travel abroad. At the same time, the US State Department is maintaining previous country-specific travel advisory system ranking COVID-19 risk levels from one to four.

In its August 6 advisory, Americans were urged to avoid all non-essential international travel to Jamaica, as the risk of COVID-19 infection here is high.

The “level 3” advisory, which was posted on the CDC's website, warned travellers who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to consider postponing all travel, including essential travel to Jamaica.

The CDC further warned that “if you get sick in Jamaica and need medical care, resources may be limited”.

Dr Tufton said, to date, Jamaica has done well in managing COVID-19 in the public health system, but this does not mean that the country can open the floodgates to everyone, including non-nationals who fall ill.

“The truth is it would put a strain and a burden on our public health system, as I suspect it would do in any country anywhere in the world, so in a sense that statement is applicable wherever in the world you are. We have seen in other countries where persons have been told that they have no beds, no ventilators and have been sent home to essentially heal themselves,” the health minister said.

He pointed out that the unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it affects all countries almost equally and what makes the difference is capacity to focus on prevention. “In that regard I think Jamaica is doing better than most when it comes to our primary health care system and the contact tracing to cauterise the virus,” he said.

As of August 6, Jamaica had 958 confirmed cases of the virus and a 1.3 per cent death rate (12 deaths). Of the total number of infections, 745 people have recovered. There were 42 people in hospital up to Wednesday. The country confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 10.

The CDC noted that Jamaica recently implemented pretesting policy (for visitors coming from some states) and pointed out also that “if you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled. You might consider getting tested before your trip”.

The CDC highlighted examples of essential travel, such as humanitarian aid work, medical reasons, or family emergencies, but stressed that people of all ages with underlying medical conditions should consider postponing even essential travel.

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