Right Steps & Poui Trees


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“…while there’s no confirmatory test, I am prepared to say that we should assume that the [Delta] variant is here…” – Minister of Health, Jamaica

At the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) press conference on Thursday, July 22, 2021, more data and information was presented indicating that Jamaica is beginning to experience a third wave of infections in the Covid-19 pandemic. The first wave peaked in terms of number of confirmed cases in September of last year and the second wave in March of this year.

From left to right: Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan, Minister of Health & Wellness Chris Tufton, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jaquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr

In her presentation, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr indicated that all of the main Covid-19 indicators were moving in the wrong direction:

MOHW slide – press briefing 22-7-2021

“And so the final slide is a summary of where we are for our main indicators. Our geographical spread level is medium. The bed occupancy is at high pressure. The Positivity is at high transmission level. The reproductive rate is increasing and we see this is exponential increase in both cases and hospitalization. Our vaccination level, where it is now, is too low to have an effect on transmission or significant effect on transmission.”

– Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, National Epidemiologist, MOHW press briefing, 22-7-2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

Among the things noted in the presentation, were that:

  • one third of the communities across the country have cases of Covid-19, with Kingston & St Andrew, St Catherine and Hanover being the parishes with the highest numbers at this time
  • the level of hospital bed occupancy by confirmed and suspected Covid-19 patients had been falling but then plateaued recently and has climbed into the high level again in the past few days
  • the Reproductive Rate of transmission has increased from 1.1 in the previous week to the rate last week of 1.2, indicating an increasing rate of exponential spread; the rate of hospitalisations is also increasing exponentially
  • the Reproductive Rate has increased since the relaxation of interventions, which began on June 3 and were increased on July 1; the rate is now at 1.2.

It was in his comments following Dr Webster-Kerr’s presentation that Minister Tufton said that we could assume that the Delta variant was now in Jamaica:

“We do not have any evidence of the Delta variant being here from the tests that have been done but these tests are ongoing. We send samples out every week and while there is no confirmatory test, I am prepared to say that we should assume that the variant is here. And I am prepared to say that because the probability of it being here is probably greater than it not being here, based on the border access and the travel restriction removal, including coming from countries where the Delta variant is now the dominant variant – the UK being one or a main one but also now the United States. I am not talking about any particular sector. It’s not about tourism because the truth is as Jamaicans we travel very frequently, the diaspora. So once we have that kind of interaction, particularly in this case with a highly contagious variant of this virus, as outlined by the scientists, it is very likely. But from the tests that have been done we have not yet confirmed. But results will continue to come in and as soon as we confirm, we will make it known.” 

 – Minister Chris Tufton, MOHW press briefing, 22-7-2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie spoke about the rising indicators which signaled the increased pressure that is likely to affect the health system, the plans to meet this increased pressure and the challenges being faced.

Dr Bisasor-McKenzie’s presentation begins approximately 21 minutes into the press conference. See PBCJ recording below.

Minister Tufton advised that the Cabinet Sub-Committee dealing with Covid-19 was scheduled to meet on Saturday, July 24, 2021 and that the decisions made would be announced this week. We wait to hear the outcome of these deliberations, which is likely to have significant impact on how the 3rd wave of infections in Jamaica plays out.

PBCJ Recording of MOHW Covid-19 Press briefing 22 -7-2021


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On the Verge of a Third Wave? – Jamaica’s Current Covid-19 Situation

At the meeting of the Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters that was held at Parliament this week Tuesday (July 20, 2021), National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr gave an update on Jamaica’s Covid-19 situation, using data as of July 19.

A copy of the slide presentation presented by Dr Webster-Kerr is available here:

Dr Webster-Kerr noted the increase in the number of new cases and the positivity rate that has been seen in the past couple of weeks.

She pointed out that the Reproductive Rate of the virus is once again over 1, now being at 1.1. This means that Jamaica is again experiencing exponential spread of the virus, albeit at a slow rate of spread. This rate could easily increase sharply without preventative measures.

One of the questions that has been asked frequently in recent weeks is whether the more contagious Delta variant is now present in Jamaica, particularly since it has now become the main strain of Covid-19 being seen in the UK and the USA, both being countries which see a lot of air travel with Jamaica. In Parliament last week, Minister of Health Chris Tufton said that genetic sequencing test results from samples sent to the CDC had not shown the presence of the Delta variant. When asked by Opposition MP Morais Guy, however, he was unable to say when those samples had been collected.

A slide in Dr Webster-Kerr’s presentation dealt with the samples sent for genome testing since December 2020 and indicated that the most recent results received were still those from the CDC.

However, in response to MP Guy’s question about how recent the samples were that had been sent for testing, Dr Webster-Kerr said that the samples sent to CDC on June 8, 2021, were mostly taken in May, with three from April and two from June. The samples sent to PAHO’s lab in Brazil on June 24, 2021, were mainly from April and May with a few from June.

This highlighted the point that the samples from which we have received results are too old to give any clear indication of whether or not the Delta variant is now in Jamaica.

Minister Tufton also responded on the issue of the samples and the Delta variant:

I think we have to be as straightforward with the country as possible, not just on the evidence based on the tests done but on the likelihood based on projections and circumstances. I think you raised an important point, Member [Morais Guy], on questioning the recency or age of the samples that were collected. And I think it’s quite clear that based on the dates around those samples the likelihood of picking up the Delta variant at that time would be less than it would be presently. And I think the most recent samples, the ones that are to go off, which would contain samples of June and hopefully July, would be our key insight, if you will, into whether the Delta variant is here.

These things normally not advisible to give a personal view but certainly based on the interactions that we are having as an open society with other geographic spaces that have the Delta variant as a dominant feature of those populations, I certainly believe that it is just more a matter of time before we detect that that variant is here. And I think the true, the same could be said for other populations throughout the world. This is the nature of the virus, this is how it spreads and once you are exposed with borders that are open of necessity, for trade or otherwise, you are going to have that level of exposure.

So I do believe that a more accurate reflection of what is present in the population as it relates to variant strains will come from the most recent batch of samples collected and I think the country should be advised of that and should continue to observe the protocols in anticipation that we are likely to have the Delta variant.

Minister Chris Tufton, Covid Joint Slect Committee, July 20, 2021 (Transcribed from PBCJ recording)

The Clinical Management Summary posted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) yesterday, giving the figures for Tuesday (July 20, 2021) added to the concerns being expressed. The number of new cases recorded was 111, which was the first time since May 27, 2021, that the number of new cases recorded in a day had gone over 100; it was 108 on that day. Also, the positivity rate was 16.1%; a rate higher than that had not been recorded since May 5, 2021, when it was recorded at 18.7%

In Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a statement regarding the Covid-19 situation and indicated that the Cabinet Covid-19 Sub-Committee would be meeting on the weekend and that if the trends continued, tighter restrictions might be announced. Such an announcement might be made next week Tuesday.

In an interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR’s Beyond the Headlines yesterday evening, epidemiologist Professor Peter Figueroa expressed concern about the point that Jamaica is now at, with an increase in cases and a Reproductive rate of 1.1.

We are facing an imminent surge of the Delta, it’s probably the Delta variant and that can be very swift with an increase in cases. We need measures immediately….I’m concerned because we cannot afford to watch and wait. When you look at the data, when you start to get an increase in cases, it rises rapidly.

Professor Peter Figueroa, Beyond the Headlines, July 21, 2021 (Transcribed from recording)

There seems to be a general consensus that if the Delta variant is not actually here yet, it will be sooner or later. And there are many who see the recent increases as an indication that we are already on the verge of a third wave of Covid-19 in Jamaica.

PBCJ RECORDINGS OF PARLIAMENT

Meeting of Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters – Tuesday, July 20, 2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0YqkijcuaQ

Sitting of Parliament at which PM Holness made statement about current Covid-19 situation in Jamaica – Tuesday, July 20, 2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAjn-ewhgoI&t=391s


Disaster Risk Management Order No. 5, 2021 – Dated April 13, 2021 (& Amendment to Order No. 4)

On Tuesday (April 13, 2021) in Parliament, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced new measures under the Disaster Risk Management. The gazetted order has been posted online on the Office of the Prime Minister’s website. It has not yet been posted on the Ministry of Justice website. I have posted a copy of the Gazette below.

For completeness, I have posted the amendment to Order No. 4 2021, although its provisions have now been replaced by Order No. 5


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New NIDS Bill Tabled in Parliament

Yesterday afternoon (December 15, 2020) the new National Identification System and Registration (NIDS) Bill was tabled in Parliament.

The Bill was read the first and second times and a Select Committee of the House was named; a Select Committee of the Senate is to be named and the two committees will sit jointly to review the new Bill. The MPs named yesterday were:

Delroy Chuck (Chairman), Fayval Williams, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Marsha Smith, Robert Morgan, Dwight Sibblies, Julian Robinson, Hugh Graham and Lothan Cousins.

In his statement about the new Bill to the House, PM Holness didn’t outline a timetable for its passage as he had done in September, but MP Chuck did mention it in his brief comments:

“It is a very important Bill and we certainly would like to use the next two months profitably and hopefully we can debate and have the Bill passed during this fiscal year.”

It is during this short period that the public will have the opportunity to read and analyse the Bill and to give feedback.

Below is the prepared text of the Prime Minister’s statement, which can be checked against the PBCJ recording to hear his additional comments and to hear the comments made by Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding.

The proceedings regarding the new NIDS Bill start at approx 2:44:40 in the PBCJ recording.


Disaster Risk Management Order No. 15 – Dated November 1, 2020

On October 28, 2020, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced some changes to the Disaster Risk Management measures. The measures are detailed in the Gazette of Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 15) Order, 2020, a copy of which is posted below.

The gazetted Order has been posted on the Ministry of Health & Wellness website (scroll to the bottom of their page), but at the time of publishing this blog, it is not yet on the websites of the Ministry of Justice or the Office of the Prime Minister.


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New NIDS Bill to be Tabled in Parliament Shortly…and be Passed by Year End?

At the first session of the new Parliament on September 29, 2020, Prime Minister Holness made a statement about the National Identification System (NIDS) and laid out the timetable in which he hopes to see the new NIDS Bill passed into law. With legislation that will have such far-reaching impact and which has already been the subject of much controversy, it is important that adequate time is allowed for public review of the Bill before it becomes law.  I am concerned that the timetable laid out by the Prime Minister may not allow sufficient time for this much-needed public review.

In his statement in Parliament, PM Holness said that the draft Bill had been completed and was before the Legislative Committee (of Cabinet) and that it would be tabled in Parliament before the end of October. A Joint Select Committee of Parliament would then be established and it was his hope that the Bill would be passed by the end of the year.

In too many instances over the decades, the deadline given by Joint Select Committees for submissions hasn’t allowed adequate time for interested groups and individuals to review and analyse the draft legislation and prepare submissions. In the current situation, if the new NIDS Bill is tabled within the next two weeks, there would be only 7 to 9 weeks for the entire process to take place, if the Bill is to be passed into law before the end of December. That is,

  • for the Joint Select Committee (JSC) to be established to consider the Bill and make a call for submissions;
  • for the public to review the Bill and make submissions and appear before the Committee, if asked;
  • for the Committee to undergo its own deliberations, considering any submissions, and write and table its report to Parliament;
  • for both Houses of Parliament to consider the report and its recommendations and debate the Bill and pass it.

It may be that once the new Bill is tabled, it will have been so carefully drafted and will have addressed the concerns raised in the judgment of the Constitutional Court which struck down the old Act, and will have taken into consideration many of the concerns raised by the public prior to the passage of the old Act, that there will be few new or remaining concerns to be dealt with. But until we see the new Bill we will not know.

We can read the new NIDS policy that was published in April. We can read or listen to the PM’s statement to Parliament in September. But until the Bill is tabled, we will not know what it actually says and, to use the cliché, the devil is always in the details.

So, for example, the new policy and the PM have said that enrolment in the NIDS will now be voluntary, but how is this addressed in the Bill? Could a situation arise in which government or private sector entities could make the presentation of a NIDS card or number mandatory to access service, so that enrolling in NIDS becomes mandatory in fact or practice, if not in law? Need for discussion before passage into law?

Let’s not have a repeat of the previous experience where a self-imposed deadline drives the process by which the legislation goes through the Parliament. And whereas I agree with the PM that the process shouldn’t be boundless, it needs to be realistic in its allowance for genuine consultation and discussion. This allowance for adequate time before passage of the legislation may indeed forestall problems after its passage, as well as simply being in accord with good governance practices.

(Just to note that the PM spoke about a space on the NIDS website that will allow for public comments about the new Bill. This raises the need for other forums for public information and input before the Bill is passed.)

Relevant Documents

PBCJ recording of Sitting of House, September 29, 2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axnFC1Xet48

“…we intend to have the Bill through the Legislative Committee before the end of October. The Bill will come back to this House and out of an abundance of caution, I can state here that it will go to a Joint Select Committee, so that there is no opportunity for unnecessary delays and that if there are issues that arise in the traditional way, we deal with it in the Committee. And the public can have their say. At, you know, I don’t want to determine the Parliamentary process but one would expect that the process is not unlimited. There must be some bound to it. And therefore we would like before the end of the year, this year, that we should be seeking to pass the Bill into law. Madam Speaker, once the Bill is tabled in Parliament, as I said, we will have a Joint Select Committee to navigate it through the Parliament and we hope that the deliberations will proceed apace.” 

PM Holness’ comment re new NIDS Bill timeline – Transcribed from PBCJ recording of Sitting of the House, September 29, 2020


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Disaster Risk Management Order No. 14 – Dated October 6, 2020

The Gazette of Disaster Risk Management Order No. 14 was posted online this morning. A copy of the order is posted below:

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the new and amended measures contained in this order in Parliament last week Tuesday (October 6, 2020). That the Gazette was posted on the governement website a week later is problematic, but it is the pattern that has prevailed throughout the many months since these Orders have been used. Perhaps we are meant to be grateful that the gazetted orders are posted on the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Health & Wellness (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page) websites, albeit some time after the measures are announced, as initially they were not posted online by the government at all.


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Disaster Risk Management Order No. 11 – Dated July 31, 2020

The Gazette of the Disaster Risk Management (Emergency Measures) (No. 11) Order, 2020 is available. It contains measures announced by Prime Minster Holness in Parliament on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Many of the measures will expire on September 30, 2020, unless amended prior to that date.

Disaster Risk Management Order No 11 cover blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 11) Order, 2020 – July 31, 2020

Order No. 11 is posted on the websites of the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Prime Minister.

House of Representatives Sitting on July 28, 2020.

The Prime Minster’s statement begins at approx 3:42:35 of the recording.

 


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Gazette of Disaster Risk Management Order No. 8 – Dated June 15, 2020

The electronic copy of the Gazette of the most recent Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures ) Order has now been posted on the websites of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Justice. This is Order No. 8. The hard copy was not yet available from the Jamaica Printing Services when I called this morning (June 19, 2020).

Here is a copy of the Gazette:

Disaster Risk Management Order No 8 blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 8) Order 2020 – June 15 2020

Order No. 8 is firmly dated June 15, 2020, though it obviously wasn’t gazetted on that date. On Tuesday night (June 16, 2020), Prime Minister Andrew Holness brought the draft order to the House for discussion, as has been his practice. No copies of the draft order were circulated to the Members of Parliament, which has been the recent practice.

AG Malahoo Forte Parliament 16-6-2020 PBCJDuring the discussion, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte responded to a question that had been posed by an Opposition MP and her preface to her response makes clear that the Gazette of Order No. 8 was not available at the time.

All right, so the Disaster Risk Management Enforcement Measures Number 8 Order was promulgated by the Prime Minister last week taking, took effect on the 15th, which was yesterday. This is the non-gazetted, it is being gazetted and should be completed by now, but this is it. You will see a number of improvement, clarity. Right, I’m just telling you. So, it, the law does not require the Order to be laid in the House, but it’s going to be brought here.

– Attorney General Malahoo Forte, Parliament, 16-6-2020

The PBCJ recording of the sitting of the House is available and the Attorney General’s comments begin at approx 5:47:40 in the recording.

Tracking when the Gazettes of the Covid-19 Orders become publicly available has really raised fo me the issue of the dating of the Gazettes containing these Orders, as the Gazette often carries a date prior to the date when it seems that the gazetting has actually taken place.

How is the date for the Gazette determined? Is it the date on which the measures are first broadcast by the Prime Minister, but not yet gazetted? Or the date on which measures come into effect, but not yet gazetted? Or when the final draft copy is sent for gazetting? Or when the Gazette is actually printed?

It is an obscure process, but can have some significant consequences. I will try to find out more.

I am also posting here a copy of an amendment that was made to the previous Order, Order No. 7. Just for completeness.

Disaster Risk Management Order No. 7 Amendment

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 7) (Amendment) Order 2020 – June 1 2020


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Jamaica’s Gazetted #COVID19 Order: April 14, 2020

The new order detailing additional measures to deal with COVID-19 in Jamaica first announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on April 14, 2020 has now been gazetted.

Disaster Risk Management gazetted order April 14 2020

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No_ 3) (Amendment) (No_2) Order 2020

I have not yet found it posted on a government website, but when I do, I will share the link.

One thing of interest…although the order was only gazetted in the late hours of April 16 (or early hours of April 17?), it is back dated to April 14. Is that an acceptable practice?

The press release from the Office of the Prime Minister issued last night indicates the timeline for the gazetting.

OPM press release 16-4-2020 - Covid 19

Also, this gazetted order is Amendment No. 2 of Order No. 3, which was dated April 8, 2020. Was there a previous amendment to Order No, 3? If so, what was it?