Health officials on COVID-19 alert as election draws near
Though mass gatherings are already prohibited under coronavirus legislation, the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) has cranked up its public-education machinery to promote compliance with safety laws as Jamaica’s election campaign changes gear for next month’s polls.
Errol Greene, the WRHA’s regional director, disclosed on Wednesdsay that health workers were now fully engaged in an education drive to raise awareness and change behaviour amid a spike of coronavirus infections locally.
Jamaica has recorded 1,047 infections and 14 related deaths.
“As it relates to COVID-19, we are in a state of heightened readiness at the moment. We have our persons out there doing public-health education, and we just recently employed some new community-health aides who will be going out into the communities to reinforce these protocols,” Greene told The Gleaner.
Greene revealed that health aides have been sent into communities to reinforce health and safety protocols. Approximately 2,000 have been deployed nationally.
“We are watching what is going on, monitoring the figures on a daily basis, and taking every step we need to take to ensure the good health of the residents in the region,” added Greene.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced in Parliament that nomination day would be Tuesday, August 18, followed by election day on Thursday, September 3.
Concerns linger that a Jamaican general election campaign, with its swarming crowds, gregarious greetings, and full-throated exclamations, could become a superspreader of the disease. That fear coincides with a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases locally and in the United States, which is the island’s primary tourism market.
COVID-19 cases have surged in the communities of Sandy Bay, Clarendon; and Bamboo River, Summit, and Church Corner in St Thomas, which are all under a 14-day government-mandated quarantine.
The WRHA will have its hands full monitoring conduct, especially with the Electoral Office of Jamaica saying that it cannot restrict coronavirus carriers from voting.
“We know how our Jamaican people are. Everybody likes the excitement as it is an opportunity for people to go out and support their candidate and their political party, and some are just out there out of curiosity.
“We can only encourage persons to observe social-distancing requirements and other safety guidelines,” said Greene.
In the aftermath of the announcement of the election date, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party stated that its 63 prospective candidates would each be required to have a protocol officer in place to maintain COVID-19 prevention rules during the campaign.
“Whether you are doing house-to-house visits, whether it is a church visit, or whether you are doing a walk, whatever activity is being done, it must be done according to the protocols established by the Ministry of Health,” said party Chairman Robert Montague.