MINISTER of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says he and his public health team welcome the weekend curfew hours as an opportunity to control the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“The holiday weekend [curfew] — in the eyes of the public health team, of course in deliberations, too, with the Cabinet which ultimately makes the decision — does provide an opportunity for a greater spread of the virus,” Dr Tufton said..
“…[There is the] propensity for persons to gather together to do merry-making and celebrating, which the Government wants to discourage this particular weekend. We do not want to create an opportunity for the spread when you can avoid it,” the minister said in response to comments from Opposition MPs Peter Bunting and Dr Morais Guy in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
He said, in response to Bunting’s suggestion that the Government was sending mixed signals by tightening and relaxing the hours for the daily curfews, that it was not incompatible with a “general movement towards opening up the economy for persons to go back to work”.
“So, the prime minister and I are not at odds as it relates to that. It is a very co-ordinated approach that was well thought out,” he remarked.
Tufton said that despite the issue around the lifting of the workplace order and loosening and tightening the restrictions for the holiday weekend, he welcomed the Opposition comparing that with the fact that the Government was doing a good job, as agreed by the members with relation to the number of cases and the management and treatment of those cases.
“But, what the member is failing to do, and I would ask him to look at it and rethink his assessment of the situation, is that we are doing well for the very reasons that he is critical [of], and that measures that we have put in place have caused us to do well,” he stated.
“The management of that process does require time, as in other jurisdictions, for us to loosen sometimes and tighten at other times; loosen some areas and tighten some areas,” he added.
Dr Tufton said that the reasons behind the quarantining of some communities is based on an area being assessed as at-risk, and the public health team moving in thereafter without affecting the rest of the population.
“Bear in mind that Jamaica is one of perhaps a very few countries in the world that has not shut down its economy totally while managing this COVID challenge,” he added.
Opposition spokesman on health, Dr Morais Guy said the Government has been referring to the need to “reopen” the economy, while ignoring that it would require guidance by data.
“We recognise that to get that data the only way you can have it is to do more testing. So far the records have shown that even when we had the capacity for over 1,200 tests per day, and even when it went over 2,000, we have not done more than 461 tests in any one day,” he insisted.
He added that if the intention is to reopen the economy, one of the important requirements is to ensure that those actors central to the reopening have been tested.
He said he welcomed Tufton’s assurance that there will be antibody testing but noted that when it was raised by Opposition MP Dr Fenton Ferguson earlier he was told that the exercise would be for another time.
“I think we are now there, and it is high time that we roll out this particular form of testing to ensure that that we protect those persons whom we expect to go out there and reopen the economy,” he added.
Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, a medical doctor like Dr Guy, also rose, noting that there has been continuous debating about mass testing versus structural testing in Jamaica.
Dr Chang said that Jamaican public health officers have adopted a testing programme which is both efficient and better than most. He said that any professional review of the approach to testing in Jamaica would demonstrate that the country has adopted one of the most efficient and effective strategies.
He said the only countries that could compare with Jamaica’s success in testing are Taiwan and Vietnam, whose methods are based on traditional public health processes.
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