The Ministry of Health and Wellness and, in fact, the whole of Government is making every effort to safeguard public health, as the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) remains a clear and present danger to the island.
We now have a COVID-19 Comprehensive Response Plan, which has received the approval of the Prime Minister Andrew Holness-led National Disaster Risk Management Council.
This plan, which is to cost us just under two billion dollars, is to:
- Guide the direction, coordination and management of the health response.
- Support emergency response agencies in the implementation of the national plan.
- Monitor and evaluate key actions in public health to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency in achieving the stated strategic goals of the Government to delay, detect, contain, manage and communicate for COVID-19.
- As well as to mobilise the needed resources to ensure the comprehensive implementation of key actions needed to realise the goals of the plan.
Here is what we project for the coming months, if COVID-19 visits our shores and if we have community transmission – based on our experience with H1N1 in 2009.
- About 2.6 million acute respiratory cases, up from the one million or so usually experienced on the island each year. These are persons who will become ill although most will have mild symptoms.
- Of the 2.6 million, some 800,000 will seek medical care in public and private facilities. At the height of the outbreak, we could see as much as 35,000 or so people seeking care within a given week.
- Close to 50 per cent of the more than 800,000 we expect to access care in our public health facilities. At the height of the outbreak, we could see approximately 16,000 in a week.
- Further, just about 2,000 of the cases visiting the public health facilities, we anticipate, will experience severe acute respiratory infection, requiring hospital care. Of this, 360 will require critical care.
We have planned for these eventualities, with our main activities including:
- Coordination, including collaboration across government and with other key stakeholders.
- Surveillance, including the imposition of travel restrictions now on five countries.
- Case management, including treatment.
- Readiness of health facilities.
- Monitoring of supplies.
- Laboratory response, including the training to enable local capacity for testing for the virus.
- Sensitisation of health care workers.
- Public education.
I wish to emphasise that the success of our efforts is contingent on the support of all Jamaicans, including the deliberate effort to access and share accurate information on the virus, thus helping to minimise the anxiety that has been associated with the spread of COVID-19.
At the same time, we must:
- Maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from persons who are coughing or sneezing.
- Frequently perform hand hygiene by washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or using a hand sanitiser if hands are not visibly soiled.
- Cover our mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing with a tissue, and then discard it.
- And avoid touching our faces and each other unnecessarily.
The challenge is significant. However, if we work together to minimise the spread of the virus and to effectively manage cases, if or when we have them, we can, as we have in the past, overcome this public health challenge.