There were tense moments on Thursday during a meeting of a Special Select Committee of Parliament discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the country after Horace Dalley pressed the Government to carry out more tests on symptomatic persons.
Dalley quizzed national epidemiologist, Dr Karen Webster-Kerr on whether the ministry had tested all persons who were quarantined at home or in a government facility, as well as those who have been isolated.
The senior health official said that all persons in isolation had been tested as well as those quarantined in Government facilities. Further, she said that all persons in home quarantine who had contacts with COVID-19-positive persons had also been tested.
However, chairman of the committee, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, said the suggestion by Dalley that all persons in home quarantine be tested was impractical.
“This idea that everybody should be tested or most persons should be tested is unrealistic. It borders on being irresponsible and we have to be very careful how we telecast that message,” the minister charged.
But Dalley took objection to the remark, declaring: “Take back that! WHO and CDC and everybody else who is in this fight recommend, ‘Test, test, test.’”
He was referring to the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tufton later said: “I was never accusing anyone of being irresponsible. I was saying that we have to be careful we avoid sending a message that is an irresponsible message.”
Another committee member, Angela Brown Burke, said she was dissatisfied with how the matter was handled.
“I don’t believe that there is anyone here who is a bulldog. We are here because we have concerns for Jamaicans,” she said.
However, Tufton was at pains to explain that he had no intention to muzzle, restrict, or disrespect any member of the committee.
Committee member Mark Golding called for his colleagues to unite in dealing with what he termed an existential threat to the world. He noted that life would be dramatically changed in the next few weeks and months owing to the impact of COVID-19.
“We here must not treat each other in an antagonistic way,” Golding said. “It is obvious that when we speak, we accept that the other person is trying to be constructive and not destructive – it is very important.”
Responding, Tufton said: “To the extent that that impression is given, then as chair, I will seek to recalibrate and reconcile.”