THE Ministry of Health has already spent $2.5 billion to deal with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic across the island and will be going back to the Ministry of Finance for more money.
But the additional funds will not be used for the widescale testing of staff at the latest business processing and outsourcing (BPO) company where a case of the virus has been discovered, as the ministry has decided that only some employees at the facility need to be sampled.
“At this point in time the Ministry of Health and Wellness has been provided with approximately $2.8 billion for the COVID response. As at today’s date we have utilised, of that amount, approximately $2.5 billion and so we have a balance of about $300 million to be utilised for the support of our activities going forward,” Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness told a virtual media briefing yesterday evening.
“We are now in negotiations with the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service for additional sums to be made available to the ministry over the next six months and that negotiation is ongoing. As soon as those numbers are finalised with the ministry we can provide those numbers for you,” added Bryan.
The permanent secretary’s comments came in response to questions from journalists after Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton provided the latest update on the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the island.
Tufton used the media briefing to announce that Jamaica now has 396 confirmed cases of the virus with the addition of 32 new positive cases over the last 48 hours, ending yesterday afternoon.
“I want to just say before, on behalf of the team, for not releasing the numbers yesterday [Tuesday],” said Tufton as he admitted that there was no widescale dissemination of the 17 new cases on Tuesday although the number was posted on the ministry’s website late in the evening.
“Of the 32 new cases, there are 11 males, 21 females with ages ranging from one to 71 years,” added Tufton.
He noted that 15 of the new cases are related to the workplace cluster [Alorica] in St Catherine, while 11 were contacts of confirmed cases, one was an imported case, and five are under investigation.
“Of the 396 confirmed cases up to now, 202 are employees of the workplace cluster in St Catherine. Their ages range from 18 to 53. They include 151 females and 51 males. They are primarily from the parishes of St Catherine and Kingston and St Andrew,” noted Tufton as he indicated that the business processing and outsourcing company, Alorica, remains the epicentre of the virus in Jamaica with a further 43 cases being contacts of its employees.
Tufton also confirmed that an employee of another BPO firm, which is reportedly based in New Kingston, has now tested positive for COVID-19 despite the protocols implemented by the Government for the sector.
“The employee, a resident of St Catherine, has been placed in isolation at a Government facility. The health departments in Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine have begun contact tracing to ascertain those who may have come into contact with the employee with a view to quarantine or isolate, test, and treat, as appropriate,” said Tufton.
He noted that the company has been temporarily closed to facilitate supervised cleaning, even though it has been in compliance with the recommended social distancing rules.
In the meantime, the permanent secretary in the health ministry yesterday indicated that 300 members of its staff have been tested for COVID-19 and the results are outstanding. Seven members of staff of the ministry have already tested positive for the virus.
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