Wed | Nov 25, 2020

NEW YEAR SURGE - Ministry warns of possible collapse of health sector with virus cases to rise over Christmas

Published:Friday | November 20, 2020 | 12:17 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie.

A huge spike in COVID-19 cases looms over the Christmas season, which could put pressure on hospital bed spaces, with males at a higher risk of dying if Jamaicans let down their guards against the coronavirus in the coming weeks, the health ministry has warned.

The declaration comes as the nation awaits the Government’s decision on whether restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus will be relaxed for the festive season.

Business interests, including the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, have been clamouring for a relaxation of certain measures, including a contraction of the current 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew hours, to boost economic activity.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said yesterday that the situation, come January, will be worse if activities increase around the Thanksgiving period, pushing up the COVID-19 positivity rate, which now hovers around eight per cent.

“That number is three percentage points above the mark for which the ministry would feel comfortable,” she pointed out.

PROTECT VULNERABLE

“Whichever way it happens, it is clear at this time that we are expecting to see a surge and, therefore, Jamaicans need to take all the precautions to prevent the vulnerable persons from being exposed, so we can decrease the hospitalisations and the risk of death,” Bisasor-McKenzie stressed during a virtual briefing yesterday.

“The reality of it is, if this happens, it means that we would not be able to cope. Our health system really cannot match up to this number of persons because, as the numbers increase, so does the exposure of vulnerable persons and so do hospitalisations,” the CMO stressed, pointing out that hospital occupancy levels are usually high at Christmas because of increased accidents, complications from non-communicable diseases and interpersonal injuries.

As at Wednesday, Jamaica had recorded 10,088 COVID-19 cases, 4,306 of which were active. There have also been 235 deaths from the disease.

WESTERN HOTSPOTS

In recent days, there has been a slight increase in the COVID-19 spread trend, with St James and Hanover now being hotspots, according to Karen Webster-Kerr, chief epidemiologist in the ministry.

She reasoned that the slight elevation of the numbers could be an indication of what is to come in the upcoming weeks.

“Men are one and a half times more likely to die from COVID-19 than females. This is significant,” she pointed out.

Bisasor-McKenzie said the Government was not against family Christmas events, but warned about too much movement.

“This is not the time for it, because of what we are seeing around us and based on what we expect to happen,” she stated.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton revealed that data from the Norman Manley International Airport show that approximately 33,500 passengers are projected to arrive there for the month of November, and 43,000 in December.

“Greater numbers of persons visiting our shores means the probability of increase in infection also will go up. We have seen where that has happened in the past. We anticipate that it will happen again. Given the distinct traditions of Christmas, we will see a spike come January,” Tufton stated.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com