The new Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to more than 60 countries, fueling widespread anxiety, as many consider the implications for public health.
Here in Jamaica we understand that anxiety and wish to reassure the public that we are, even now, enhancing our readiness for the very real possibility of the virus coming to our shores.
Up to March 1, there were more than 87,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported globally and close to 3,000 deaths. Among those countries impacted are three from within the Caribbean, namely the Dominican Republic, St. Barts and St. Maarten.
So far, Jamaica has had no cases. However, we can accept, given the rate of spread, which has seen more than 30 new countries impacted in the last week alone, that Jamaica is not immune to COVID-19.
We can also accept that it is not beyond our capacity to respond and to do so effectively, in the public health interest. Such has been our history in the face of other global disease outbreaks, including H1N1, SARS and Ebola.
Against this background, Jamaica’s assault on COVID-19, for which robust and ongoing public support is critical, is happening on two fronts:
1. Actions to minimize the risk of exposure among the local population; and
2. Actions to enhance the capacity of the public health system to manage patients in the event that we have cases.
On MINIMISING EXPOSURE, we have, through collaboration with a wide cross-section of stakeholders from the public and private sectors, and through the adoption of a whole-of-government approach:
• Imposed travel restrictions to include five countries, among them China, Italy, South Korea, Singapore, and Iran.
• Discouraged non-essential travel.
• Are patrolling irregular border crossings.
• Sensitized key personnel at all air and sea ports.
• Designated FOUR (4) quarantine facilities.
• And identified and are retrofitting isolation facilities in each of the island’s public hospitals.
On our HEALTH SYSTEM’S READINESS, we have:
• Developed the local capacity to test for the virus, thanks to training provided by the Pan-American Health Organization.
• Assessed the readiness of our health facilities to meet the anticipated increase in demand on services.
• Are addressing existing gaps, including with respect of additional supplies and equipment, though, at the present time, we have enough personal protective equipment in the island for our health facilities. We also have adequate stores of respiratory medicine for the next three months.
• In addition, we have trained and continue to train health care providers.
These efforts are supported by a communications campaign to keep each member of the population updated on the virus and its impacts. Oversight is provided by the multi-sectoral National Disaster Risk Management Council – led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness – to which the Ministry of Health and Wellness will present a detailed response plan for approval.
Still, the success of our efforts depends on the extent to which stakeholders from the private and public sectors and indeed every individual who calls Jamaica home understand that they each have a role to play to preserve public health. This week we will also appoint a COVID-19 coordinating taskforce.
We must, therefore, work together to maintain a high level of vigilance in our surveillance and response measures. It is also now more important than ever that each of us:
• 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 sanitizer if hands are not visibly soiled.
• Cover our mouths and noses with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and then discarding it.
• And resist the habit to touch our faces.
Yes, COVID-19 is a disease that can cause death, but in the majority of cases, those affected by the virus survive. If we work together as a community, each of us doing our part, from prevention to care management, we can and will overcome this public health threat.