Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton, is urging Jamaicans to take the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) Omicron variant seriously.
“I urge us as a people, and those who comment and are influencers in the society, not to create a false sense of complacency and security because we have all concluded that the [variant] may be a less severe strain, because there is a direct relationship between the extent of spread, the unvaccinated and the vulnerable, and those who will end up in hospitals,” he said while addressing a COVID Conversations digital press briefing on Thursday (January 6).
The Minister noted that the COVID-19 reproductive rate, now being at 2.4 per cent, is cause for great concern.
“It means that, under normal circumstances, we would desire a reproductive rate [well] below one [per cent]; 2.4 per cent means that the virus is expanding exponentially. It means, at this rate, we’re likely to see significant increases every two days [to] three days and, possibly, doubling of the numbers possibly, unless we cauterize the spread of the virus,” he said.
Dr. Tufton posited that the extent of transmission must be viewed in the context of the challenges Jamaica faces regarding capacity and limited resources.
He noted that the new variant is “raging in countries that, on the face of it, have a lot more capacity in terms of doctors, nurses, [and] hospital facilities, [yet] many people are dying.”
“We are not a developed country with unlimited resources and hospital beds. In those countries, hospitals and hospital beds are being overrun [and] we have a vaccination rate that is lower than many of these countries,” he said.
The Minister cited the United States (US) as an example, noting that although there immunisation rate averaged 60 per cent, “they are being overrun in some states.”
Dr. Tufton encouraged citizens to continue observing the COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures instituted to contain transmission, which include mask wearing, physical distancing, frequent and thorough hand washing and sanitising “and, of course, vaccination”.
For her part, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, emphasised that “we probably still have a considerable amount of [the] Delta [variant] in [the] country as well”.
“So we probably have different variants that are circulating, and remember that even though the Omicron [variant] has been shown to cause a less severe illness, our history shows that we have significant severity of illness in the country with the Delta [variant],” she noted.
The CMO pointed out that with almost 80 per cent of the population unvaccinated, “it means that we are still quite vulnerable to both the Delta and Omicron [variants] and, therefore, we need to ensure that we get vaccinated.”