COVID is still here
Relaxation of protocols raises concerns, but continued mask wearing brings hope
Relaxation of COVID-19 requirements has generated mixed views, some glad for the respite, while others, especially the elderly with comorbidities, are taking no chances with the viral disease that has caused havoc worldwide, killing millions.
For close to two years, the country has been under strict COVID-19 containment measures, mandated under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA). Curfews, lockdowns, mask wearing, social distancing, sanitisation, and temperature checks had become the norm in an effort to control the virus that, up to Friday, had infected 129,489 Jamaicans, killing some 2,943.
However, the Government has now put an end to those mandatory requirements, decommissioning the DRMA. Instead, continued practice of mask wearing, sanitisation and social distancing are strongly recommended, and several persons agree.
Across the busy commercial districts and town centres, persons are observed still wearing masks, while several facilities still maintain the protocols of requiring a mask to enter and conduct temperature checks and sanitisation at the door.
Given Jamaica’s low vaccination take-up, with less than 30 per cent of the population fully inoculated, several have expressed the view that the lifting of the protocols was premature.
In spite of the fact that Jamaica has in stock more than adequate supply of COVID-19 vaccines (purchased and donated), a large percentage of Jamaicans are still vaccine hesitant, for a number of reasons.
Some vaccines will expire shortly and may have to be dumped, The Sunday Gleaner was told.
Yesterday, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton encouraged persons to get vaccinated, adding that he was heartened that Jamaicans are still wearing masks, although it was no longer mandated.
“I am very encouraged by the fact that many persons are still wearing masks.
What it shows is that they are taking responsibility. There has been a lot of noise around the narrative about what causes it (COVID-19) and how to control it, with special interests defending their positions solely and not giving much thought to the greater good. The fact that there is still wearing of masks is a recognition that there are still many who recognise the benefits,” he said.
“After two years it should be well known the risks involved and how the virus is spread, the consequences involved, particularly for those with comorbidities.”
Tufton continued, “There are pros and cons to the lifting of the requirements, among which is the return to a sense of normalcy, on one hand; and the burden it has placed on mindsets, on the other hand. As a government, you have to balance the issues and address some of the side effects that have occurred. The main con is that if there is a surge, what I have emphasised is that we have always tried to pivot around this virus and its management. We are willing to change, depending on the examination of the risk.”
For him, the risk is measured by the positivity rate.
“If that risk were to show signs of picking up, and we monitor trends globally, then we have no choice but to use the Public Health and Quarantine Acts, which can be utilised if it becomes necessary,” he said.
‘WHAT NONSENSE IS THIS?’
The Opposition is among those critical of the Government’s decision to abolish the DRMA, particularly in regard to mask wearing.
Opposition spokesman on health, Dr Morais Guy, said the wearing of mask indoors should be maintained, given reports of increased transmission in the source markets from where Jamaica gets most of its tourists.
“I cannot understand why the removal of masks, especially in enclosed spaces, has been downgraded from mandatory to recommended. You remove that, yet you say the DRMA is no longer operational, but certain of the measures are subsumed under the Public Health Act and can be incorporated,” he said.
“Yet you have a respiratory virus that is transmissible by airborne droplets. What nonsense is this? It defies medical science. A mask is effective in helping you stop the spread. It may not be 100 per cent, but it helps the risks of contraction better than washing your hands.”
Guy has also raised concerns about the late acknowledgement that a third COVID-19 variant was detected in samples collected since January.
“What we have is months-old samples, and months-old results,” Guy said on Friday, adding that the primary reason for the Government purchasing the genomic sequencing machine was to get a faster turnaround time of results.
Tufton said the delay could have been human resource related, but he could not be definitive.
Guy said he was waiting to see what is the new thrust about the vaccination programme. He said that some AstraZeneca vaccines may be expiring at the end of this month. Johnson and Johnson has a 2023 expiration date, he said.
‘IT KILLED MY GRANDMOTHER’
Mark Edwards, 37, was seen on Ruthven Road in the vicinity of the Jamaica Public Service office on Thursday wearing a mask. Quizzed by The Sunday Gleaner as to why he was still wearing one, he said COVID killed his grandmother a year ago.
“Is one year ago this virus killed my grandmother. I see how it affect my grandfather and I don’t want to be the one to carry it home, because it is still here. My grandmother pastor tell her that God will protect her and she wouldn’t wear the masks. So my grandfather is all I have left. Is dem raise me,” he said, adding that he was on his way to pay light and water bills.
Owner/operator of Three Angels Pharmacy in Mandeville, Rohan McNellie, said there was a relaxation of COVID containment practices long before the lifting of the DRMA.
“I am not seeing much mask wearing in Mandeville. What I admire, though, is that everybody that comes in the pharmacy still wears a mask. What I promote is the personal responsibility aspect. The knowledge is there, COVID is there, so take personal care,” he told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
McNellie said evidence of what is happening elsewhere in the world shows that it is just a matter of time before another variant is discovered.
“Don’t fool yourself. We are not out of the woods. There is no need to jump up and clap. Still be vigilant, because this virus has so many dimensions. We have some mild, though highly transmissible variants now, but we don’t know when a killer variant like the Delta will emerge,” he said.
McNellie expressed concern that Jamaica may be moving too fast too quickly.
“I would have hoped that the mask at least remained, especially in closed spaces. If you are on the road or at the stadium, yeah, but in closed spaces, it should remain. It’s a virus. I would prefer if they said, ‘If you are going in a man’s place, if you are going on a bus, put on your mask’,” he said.
NOT A PROBLEM
On Friday, Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson told senators that they should continue wearing their masks while in the chamber because of problems with air flow.
As it relates to schools, Education Minister Fayval Williams said the mask-wearing requirement was lifted for students. However, Tufton said that he did not envisage any confrontation with students, parents and schools over the issue.
“If the parents insist that his or her child or children wear masks to school, then the school should not have a problem with that. That is a parent or parents taking personal responsibility and I encourage that,” Tufton said.
Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) Managing Director Paul Abrahams said with the lifting of the DRMA, the company cannot enforce the once mandatory mask wearing for commuters.
“I don’t think we can mandate anybody to wear mask but we do encourage it and that is the message in our advertisements. We encourage both our staff, through education, and commuters, to wear their mask, but it is now an issue of personal responsibility,” Abrahams told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.