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Jamaican health ministry preparing for sharp rise in COVID-19 cases

January 2nd, 2022

Jamaican Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, says health officials are collaborating with international partners and agencies, as more research is being conducted on the newest coronavirus (COVID-19) variant, Omicron.

Speaking during a recent “COVID Conversations” press briefing, Tufton says that following reports that a traveller from Jamaica to the United Kingdom had tested positive with the Omicron variant – it can be concluded that the variant is “here within our population”. 

Against this background, National Epidemiologist Dr. Karen Webster-Kerr said “there are some changes in the genes of the Omicron variant that’s associated with possibly higher transmissibility.”

She said the new variant has shown community transmission “of one and a half days to three days.”

Additionally, she said some indications suggest a reduction in effectiveness related to the vaccines. “That means, it still protects, but the effectiveness is lower, and boosters actually increase your protection from the Omicron variant,” she stated.

Webster-Kerr noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) listed Omicron as a variant of concern since November of this year. It has since spread to 89 countries globally.

“Hospitalisations, we note in the United Kingdom and South Africa, continue to rise,” she said, adding that this could potentially mean an increase in hospitalisations in Jamaica.

“If it is, we already have Omicron circulating in communities, but we’re not aware of it yet, by mid-January we could see over 1500 cases daily [and] we could be admitting 182 patients per day,” she advised.

Against this background, Dr. Tufton is calling for Jamaicans to not be complacent but continue to follow the existing social distancing protocols.

“So the conclusion is that we have to be careful, we have to prepare and we have to recognise the importance of personal responsibility. No matter what we do, there are some indisputable realities that we have to face,” he said.

“Complacency could be a false sense of security and I say so in our context here in Jamaica, [because] we have low vaccination rates. The more persons who get the virus, the greater the likelihood of hospitalisations going up, particularly among the vulnerable, or the immunocompromised individuals,” he further noted.

Tufton said just about 50 per cent of the 60 to 80 age cohort are not vaccinated, which “means that if the virus spreads in that population, even in cases where it may be mild, the more people who get the virus, the more we expect that some will become ill and go to the hospital.

“Which is why the projections are as follows, that we could end up with up to 2000 persons being hospitalised,” he disclosed.

Meanwhile, in preparation for a possible spike in cases,Tufton said approximately 1,200 beds will be available to support in-patient care.

The Ministry has also extended the contract of more than 1,300 additional temporary staff, who were contracted to support operations in health facilities, including hospitals, as well as the vaccination programmes.

“We have extended their employment to the end of the first quarter of next year, and that is to ensure that we have the personnel [available],” Dr. Tufton said.

D Webster-Kerr said the WHO’s recommendations for non-clinical infection prevention still include the use of a well-fitting mask, physical distancing, ventilation of indoor spaces, crowd avoidance and proper hygiene.

“We are to enhance our surveillance, testing and sequencing and have stricter contact tracing. We should also anticipate our caseload in our hospitals, which we are doing, and efforts to accelerate the vaccination coverage which is very important. We all should try and get vaccinated if we haven’t done so before,” she said.

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