Right Steps & Poui Trees


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Three Covid Press Releases (April 13 -21, 2022 – One OPM, Two MOHW) & A Bit More

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Press Release – Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It wasn’t a surprise that some of the Covid-19 protocols were allowed to expire; the government had been signaling the intention to further relax the measures required. I don’t think it was a wise move to remove the mask mandate for enclosed spaces that the public has access to. It was also odd that whereas the mask mandate was removed for people in enclosed spaces, it is still required that people sanitize their hands before entering those enclosed spaces…when what we are dealing with is an airborne virus.

It was interesting that the announcement of the decision not to extend the pre-testing and masking requirements under the Public Health Act order was made via a press release from OPM, though the Public Health (Enforcement Measures) (Coronavirus COVID-19) Order, 2022 was issued by the Minister of Health & Wellness.

Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) Press Release – Tuesday, April 19, 2022

With the requirement to wear masks in enclosed spaces coming to an end on April 15, 2022, on April 19, 2022 the MOHW issued a press release informing the public that masks would still be required in all health facilities, as would protocols for hand washing and physical distancing. The Ministry outlined its reasons for this.

Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) Press Release – Thursday, April 21, 2022

On April 21, 2022, the MOHW informed the country that the Omicron BA.2 variant had been identified in 2 of 88 samples tested at the National Influenza Centre at the University Hospital of the West Indies. However, the samples were collected between January 1 – March 4, 2022, making them one and a half to three and a half months old by the time of reporting. So we know Omicron BA.2 is in Jamaica, but these sample results tell us very little about the situation in the country now, in mid-to-late April.

I wonder why the genome sequencing results we are getting from local testing are for such old samples. Is this the length of time the sequencing will normally take? Or has there been some glitch in the process that is causing the delayed results? Are any current samples being tested? If so, when will we get those results? It would be disappointing if we now have the capacity to test locally but are getting results with as long a delay as when we were sending samples to CARPHA, PAHO or CDC for sequencing.

COVID-19 data from MOHW for the past two weeks – April 14 – 27, 2022

The daily Covid-19 reports from MOHW are showing an upward trend, which is obviously cause for concern. Today’s report showed 115 confirmed cases in 24 hours, the first time since February 13, 2022 that the number has been over 100; that day there were 109 confirmed cases. And the positivity rate has now gone into double digits again; the last time it was in double digits was on February 16, 2022, when it was 10.3%. It has been above the recommended 5% for most of the past two weeks.

MOHW Covid-19 press conference today, Thursday, April 28, 2022

Perhaps the upward trend in the Covid-19 data is the reason for the press conference that has been called by the MOHW for this evening. Perhaps the intention is to reassure the country that the hospital system is able to cope with the expected increase in cases and to encourage people to follow the preventative protocols and to get vaccinated. I don’t know what else is on the agenda and if there will be any unexpected announcements or information.

Something I would like to hear more about is what is happening with Long Covid in Jamaica – what follow-up is being done, what data is being collected, what such data is showing, what support is being offered to people with Long Covid. We really need more information to be shared with the public…with individuals dealing with Long Covid, their families, schools, workplaces. Unfortunately, I am not very hopeful that this will be on the agenda.


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But The Samples Tested Are 2-3 Months Old, Ministry of Health & Wellness…

Yesterday (April 11, 2022), the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) sent out a press release titled “Omicron BA1 Remains Dominant Covid-19 Strain in Jamaica”. When you read the release, you see that this statement is based on samples collected 2-3 months ago, between January 5 – February 12, 2022. So whereas the results say something about the situation at that point in time, they don’t say much about the situation now, in the second week in April.

“The Omicron BA1 strain of the COVID-19 virus continues to be the dominant strain observed in the Jamaican population. Samples collected between January 5 and February 12, 2022 and tested recently, showed that 100% of those samples yielded a positive result for Omicron BA1. Jamaicans are reminded that Omicron is spread more easily (twice as fast) than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

At the same time, vaccination remains the best defense against the COVID-19 virus and its variants, guarding against severe illness, hospitalisation, and death.  To receive a COVID-19 vaccine, members of the public may visit the more than 250 access points across the island.

Up to 10 a.m. on Monday, (April 11) over 1.4 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in country. Of that number, 690,649 were first doses; 584,764-second doses; 93,989 single doses; 3,758 immunocompromised doses and booster doses 31,030.

Additionally members of the public should ensure that they remain vigilant in the practice of the other infection prevention and control measures, mask wearing, physical distancing and handwashing.”  

I don’t know if these samples were tested here in Jamaica or if they were sent overseas for testing…to CARPHA, PAHO or CDC. There has always been a time lag between collection of samples and the genome sequencing results, which has reduced the usefulness of the results in assessing our current Covid-19 situation. The hope had been that the time lag would have been reduced once we got the testing equipment and the necessary training for staff. I am not sure what has been happening since the training was being done in January and why the results announced were not from more recent samples. Perhaps we will hear more from the Minister or the Ministry during the week.

In a few days, on April 15, 2022, some of the Covid-19 protocols that were preserved under the Public Health Act will expire. We should hear shortly whether any will be extended. The MOHW data for the past two weeks suggest that they won’t be, but we’ll see.

PS – After I had published this blog post, I saw that MOHW put out the figures for yesterday, April 11, 2022. So I updated my chart and added it below.


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The Public Health (Emergency Measures) (Coronavirus COVID-19) Order, 2022 – dated March 18, 2022

On Thursday, March 17, 2022, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) to implement Covid-19 emergency measures would end the following day. He said that a few of the measures that had been in place would instead be administered under the Public Health Act but that all others would come to an end.

The Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) issued a press release about the revocation of the DRMA Covid-19 Orders and indicated that a copy of new Public Health Enforcement Measures Order was attached to the release.

However, although the press release was posted on the MOHW website, the attached Order doesn’t seem to have been posted there. It was posted on the Office of the Prime Minister’s website.

I have posted a copy of the Order below.

Some of the measures are scheduled to expire in a week’s time, on April 15, 2022 and the PM had indicated that a review is to take place to determine what will happen after that time. If the Covid data from the MOHW continues on the trend of the past few weeks, it is likely that the remaining measures will not be extended. The rising number of cases and hospitalisations in the UK, the USA and Canada is cause for concern, however, as in the past increases in those countries have been followed some weeks later by increases here in Jamaica.


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The Last of the COVID-19 Disaster Risk Management Orders – January 14 & 28, February 11 & 25 and March 18, 2022

In Parliament last week Thursday – March 17, 2022 – Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the end of the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) for the issuing of measures to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in Jamaica, after 2 years of use. This was generally expected and the Prime Minister indicated that while most measures, including the nightly curfews, would be ended outright, some would be kept in place via regulations under the Public Health Act. This includes the requirement to wear masks in certain enclosed indoor areas accessed by the public, which remains until April 15, 2022.

The Order ending the use of the DRMA, effective March 18, 2022, was displayed in Parliament but has not yet been posted online.

“With effect from the 18th day of March, 2022, the Disaster Risk Management (Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, 2020 is revoked.”

For completion, I am posting below the last 4 DRMA Orders, all issued in 2022. They are all posted on the Ministry of Justice website, though not all on the Office of the Prime Minister website.

Click here to view the PBCJ recording of PM Holness’ presentation in Parliament in which he spoke about ending the use of the DRMA to implement Covid-19 measures. The presentation was made during his Budget Debate presentation and begins about 37 minutes into the recording.

The Covid-19 pandemic use of the DRMA has come to an end and there is much worthy of detailed study and comment about it, including whether it was the appropriate method for the issuing of these measures for such an extended period of time; the amount of power it placed in the hands of the Prime Minister; how the issuing of the Orders was actually handled; the way in which the details of the Orders and gazetted copies were disseminated to the public and the scope of the measures contained in the Orders and the impact they had on life in Jamaica. It will be worth looking at what lessons, if any, have been learned for next time…whatever that next time turns out to be…


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A Week Later & for the Prime Minister, the Argument is Still Done

A week ago, on Sunday, January 9, 2022, Prime Minister Andrew Holness held a press conference to announce a Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) in Parade Gardens in Central Kingston because of the levels of violent crime occurring in the area. When the press conference had been called the evening before, many wondered if it was being called because of the increase in Covid-19 cases that was happening as the 4th wave picked up momentum.

During the question and answer period, Gleaner reporter Tenesha Mundle asked PM Holness this question:

“Are we planning to return to lockdowns and, if lockdowns are off the table, what other strategies will be implemented to halt the current Covid-19 wave?”

PM Holness replied:

“I wasn’t planning on turning this into a Covid Conversation. But I know there is great tension in the air. And what it says to me is that people are not listening to what I have said. I’ve been very clear, in Parliament, very clear, absolutely, gone overboard to say we are not going back to lockdowns. So, be calm! And I’ve said what the strategy is. It is now in your hands! Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy. We can’t hold you down and put the needle in your hand. If you get sick, you tek that responsibility. There is an option; we have vaccines all over the place. We have sites all over the place. I don’t hear one person complain that they can’t get the vaccine anywhere. Go and get vaccinated! Argument done!”

Argument done. Go and take the vaccine. That is the strategy.

In the week that followed, the situation has worsened:

  • We have had the highest reported number of new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic (1968 on Jan 15, 2022)
  • We have had the highest positivity rate since the start of the pandemic (68.6% on Jan 13, 2022) and on 5 days of last week , the positivity rate was over 50%.
  • The number of people hospitalised with confirmed cases of Covid-19 moved from 294 at the start of the week to 446 by the end of the week.
  • In Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 11, 2022) in a statement in which he extended existing Covid measures without changes for another 2 weeks, PM Holness noted that although the country’s Covid bed capacity of 700 beds had not yet been reached, hospitalisations were increasing sharply and Covid beds might soon be full. (The slide he shared was a reminder that hospital beds are occupied by both people with confirmed Covid cases and those with suspected cases, who are awaiting test results. The daily reports from the Ministry of Health & Wellness give the number of people hospitalised with confirmed cases only; so the number actually is always higher on the ground.)

During the week, the heads of regional health authorities and some hospitals were in the news detailing some of the challenges that were being experienced in the health system:

In a Jamaica Observer article on Thursday (January 13, 2022), – University hospital under pressure from Covid patients – Chief Executive Officer at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) was quoted commenting about the situation at the hospital:

Chief executive officer of UHWI Kevin Allen told the Jamaica Observer that the operations at the institution were becoming difficult as the fourth wave of the virus shapes up to wreak havoc. He reported that the system is further strained as roughly 90 nurses are at home, sick.

For patients and staff, Allen said the situation is “stressful, frustrating and difficult”. He encouraged staff to “hold it because the worst is yet to come”.

“We are putting systems in place and we are working to see how best we can ensure we hold it. We are not in breakdown days yet, but it is rough,” he said.

“The last report I have seen, we have some 90 nurses out of the system and that is crippling our operations. We have roughly 880 nurses and about 10 per cent have come down with the virus,” Allen added.

“We were already operating short with these skill sets, so to lose so many will impact on the quality of care. All the areas that we operate are full. The field hospitals are full, isolation is full, emergency is full with patients. We had to revert to using tents.”

On Friday (January 14, 2022), UHWI issued a press release notifying the public to expect delays at the hospital.

On Saturday (January 15, 2022), Minister Tufton posted a series of tweets about the situation at a number of hospitals he had visited, including Bustamante Hospital for Children, which was being affected by an increase in Covid-19 cases and reduced staff, due to infection and quarantine.

In an article in Loop News that same day – Covid Surge: Highest number of paediatric cases at Bustamante hospital – Senior Medical Officer, Dr Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson was quoted as saying:

“We are currently in the fourth wave of the pandemic. We have been through three before but this one is different. The pace at which people are getting infected and symptomatic is alarming and therefore it is important that we vaccinate to protect ourselves and our loved ones”.

The Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) issued a release expressing their concerns about the current situation…

…which was endorsed today by the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ)…

So with this and more having occurred in the last week, many people wondered if Covid-19 would be on the agenda of the Office of the Prime Minister press conference announced last night. However, it wasn’t.

This morning, PM Holness told the country that a ZOSO had been declared for some sections of Westmoreland, which has been plagued by violent crime. At the end of the press conference, the ususal question and answer segment took place. The final question was asked by Ricardo Brooks of Nationwide News Network.

Ricardo Brooks: Good morning, Prime Minister. The country’s positivity rate has topped 60% and hospitalization, the situation there is deteriorating. Do you still hold to the point that “Argument done”?

The Prime Minister answered: You have said it. Thank you!

That was all. And then the press conference ended.

At the point we are at in the 4th wave, this is not an adequate or appropriate response from Jamaica’s Prime Minister. We are told that the peak of the wave is not expected for another two or more weeks. The health care system is already on the verge of being overwhelmed by the increased number of cases and the staff shortages. The strategy that PM Holness offered last week – “Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy.” – will not slow this current surge. He may feel he has spoken enough; he may feel frustrated; he may have had another appointment to go to. But this was a national press conference he called, to talk about another issue, yes. But he must have expected that he would be questioned about the Covid-19 situation and it would have been good if he had used the opportunity, on a Sunday morning, to have said something more useful.


Disaster Risk Management Order No. 12 – Dated December 10, 2021 (& Order No. 11 Amendment No. 2 – November 27, 2021)

The gazetted copy of the current Disaster Risk Management Order – No. 12, dated December 10, 2021 – was posted on the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) website on December 24, 2021. To date, it hasn’t yet been posted on the website of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

I have posted a copy below. I have also posted a copy of Amendment No. 2 for Order No. 11, dated November 27, 2021.

Despite the fact that these Orders govern some fundamental aspects of our lives in profound ways, and have done so for the better part of the past 2 years, neither of the two government websites which post these gazetted Orders online has a complete set of them posted. The Ministry of Justice hasn’t yet posted a copy of the current order, 18 days after the measures went into effect. And the Office of the Prime Minister posted the current order on December 24, two weeks after the measures took effect, on December 10. OPM also still hasn’t posted some of the previous orders, Order No. 11, for example, nor its 2nd amendment.

MOJ DRMA Orders page on 28-12-21
OPM DRMA Orders page on 28-12-21

Some would say this is of little significance because fewer and fewer people are paying attention to the measures that are announced anyway and enforcement of many measures is very relaxed and arbitrary. So post them? Don’t post them? Whatever….

But what is the impact of repeatedly announcing measures which are routinely ignored? This might be worth considering.


Two Events in 24 Hours: A Signal of the Level of Covid Concern?

Yesterday evening (December 15, 2021), the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) held its first Covid Conversation press conference in nearly two months; the last one was held on October 26, 2021. This morning, Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters, chaired by Minister Tufton, met for the first time since July 20, 2021, five months ago. (If they’ve met more recently than that, I would stand corrected.) After months of these events not being held, two within 24-hours. That signals a level of concern about what is likely to be happening with Covid come the new year and a desire to signal this concern before the news and information lull that comes with the Christmas holidays.

We are right now in a comparatively good place regarding Covid-19 in Jamaica. Today National Epidemiologist Dr Webster-Kerr noted that for the first time in months the 7-Day Average for our Positivity Rate is below 5%. It is 4.9%.

She also said that we have now come out of our 3rd wave, which peaked in September, and that we are in what could be considered an inter-wave period. The number of confirmed cases has been coming down steadily, though there might be a little leveling off, she said.

Additionally, the pressure on hospitals at this time is not from Covid-19 patients, with all four of the health regions being well below 50% of their Covid-19 related capacity.

In almost all of the Covid-19 indicators, we have been moving in the right direction. Dr Webster-Kerr said:

“This is the picture. It’s looking good at this time but we have to be careful, in that for most of the indicators we are above where we were in between the 2nd and 3rd waves. So we can still increase rapidly, if we are going into the 4th wave.”

She did also note that the vaccination level is too low to have an effect on transmission, though it is having an effect on severe disease and deaths.

For weeks we have had warnings from many quarters, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, various medical bodies, individual doctors, epidemiology and public health experts, that we should expect a 4th wave, most likely starting in January. The identification of the new Omicron variant in late November has made this likelihood more of an inevitability.

The warnings were repeated at both the Covid Conversation yesterday and at the Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting today. The holding of the two meetings in such quick succession signals the level of concern that there is about the 4th wave and the need to give the country an update before Christmas, with its associated activities that are likely to contribute to that wave.

In the discussion about the Omicron variant at the JSC today, Minister Tufton said:

“I would venture to say, and at the risk of appearing to be an alarmist, that’s not my intention, but I would venture to say, given what we know of this season and the interactions that are likely to take place, cross border interactions, whether diaspora or tourism related, it is highly likely that if the virus isn’t here already, it is highly likely that it will be here after the holiday season. And I think we have to be frank about this, I think we have to make it clear to the country, which is why we have continued to emphasize the wearing of the mask, physical distancing, the observation of the protocols around gatherings and indeed, where one is in doubt because they have symptoms or feel exposed, they should get tested. It is part of the preparation for the 4th wave because we do not believe that we, as an open society where we depend whether on trade or travel in one form or another, that it is going to be a permanent situation to keep the variant out. It’s just not practical. And I suspect the holiday season will only serve to add a greater risk or probability of that happening.”

So two events in 24 hours. After months without them. With everyone on the verge of pivoting to Christmas and year end activities. Let it not be said, however, that the year ended without these two mechanisms being resurrected to warn about the 4th wave and update about the preparations for same.

PBCJ Recording of Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters, December 16, 2021


In Parliament, a Question & an Answer About Covid-19 Testing in Schools

In Parliament last week Tuesday, November 30, 2021, Minister of Health and Wellness Chris Tufton made a statement in Parliament about the current situation regarding Covid-19 in Jamaica.

One of the questions put to him following his statement was from MP Julian Robinson:

“Minister, I just have one question and really recommendation. As we move forward to reopening schools, I believe it is imperative that we allow and provide testing in the schools. What is going to happen without testing in the schools, when the children get sick, their parents can’t afford the significant fees to privately test them. They’re going to keep sending them to school because they don’t have either the support at home to keep them at home. So gonna have sick children continue to go to school. It might mean doing the antigen test which is cheaper than the PCR test. But as we move to reopen the schools, we must have some capacity particularly in larger schools. I mean Excelsior in my constituency is 2200 students, right? You’re bound to have sick children infecting others and right now it is too difficult, it is too expensive, for persons to get tested.”

MP Julian Robinson, Parliament, November 30, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

Minister Tufton responded:

“So, Madam Speaker, I think it’s a…there’s no difference of opinion there. The reality is that the school population is going to be a point of vulnerability, not so much, to be totally frank, for the students, who could weather the storm, so to speak, in terms of the virus, because they are stronger, stronger immune systems, but more so for those they take it home to. Their parents and grandparents. And we still have a large unvaccinated population among that older age cohort. Which is why we have to pursue a dual strategy – promote vaccination among the older population and offer protection to our young people to get to face-to-face.

Testing will be available based on an assessment of conditions or symptoms and I am prepared to ask too for some amount of random testing as part of sort of just sampling a population. And I think that can be easily organised because contrary to popular opinion that I have seen on social media and so on, the government provides free testing. I do appreciate that you can’t just go and request it because it is given based on a doctor’s assessment. Now where a school has a sick bay or otherwise – because we’re always in touch with the schools, we’re putting protocols in place – and a child displays the slightest symptom, then they’ll be automatically tested and a conclusion drawn in order to protect the rest of the population. So, I’m with you on that.” 

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Minister Chris Tufton, Parliament, November 30, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

So Minister Tufton says that testing will be done on children who are symptomatic, though it is known that many people who have Covid-19 are asymptomatic. No mention is made of rigorous testing protocols in schools where a child has tested positive or where a child has been exposed to Covid-19 in a setting other than school. What level of contact tracing will be done where a child does test positive? And what notification protocols are in place to inform other students, parents/families and staff when there has been a confirmed or suspected case in a school? And what level of testing is meant by “some amount of random testing as part of sort of just sampling a population”? Perhaps Minister Tufton could be more specific.

Additional resources

In Parliament on that same day, Minister of Education Fayval Williams delivered a statement dealing with the expansion of face-to-face classes in more schools. Below is a copy of the text of her statement:

Also, here is the link to the PBCJ recording of the sitting of Parliament that day – November 30, 2021.


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350 Words or Less: No Need for Covid Conversations Anymore?

One of the communication tools the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has used during the pandemic to share information with the public is the press conferences dubbed Covid Conversations. For some periods, these Conversations took place routinely on Thursday evenings and included an epidemiological update on the Covid situation in Jamaica, with slides, presented by the Chief Medical Officer or the National Epidemiologist. Aspects of policy and administration would be dealt with and current issues that had recently arisen. Importantly, it was also an opportunity for members of the media to ask questions of MOHW representatives, including the Minister and Permanent Secretary, and have them answered on the record. And the PBCJ recordings of these events have provided a very useful archive for tracking aspects of the pandemic and the MOHW’s approach.

In more recent months, however, these Covid Conversations have been held less frequently, as I and fellow blogger Emma Lewis have commented on on Twitter:

It isn’t that the Minister or the CMO or the Director of Family Health Services are not accessible to the media. They certainly do interviews on various radio programmes. However, these are not archived in the way that the PBCJ recordings are and quickly become inaccessible to the public and they certainly won’t be available via Access to Information requests. And when the Minister speaks in Parliament, members of the media don’t get to ask him questions there.

The last Covid Conversation was held on the morning of Tuesday, October 26, 2021, an unusual day and time, as the Minister himself commented. That’s 4 weeks ago today. There has been no Covid Conversation in November. Why not? Has MOHW decided that these convos are no longer useful? If so, what is the strategy being used to replace them or to provide other means for the sharing of the information they provided and the regular opportunity to have questions asked and answered? Or is it that there’s nothing new to share or to answer questions about? Covid’s over?

Maybe this Thursday we’ll have another Covid Conversation…or maybe not…


Disaster Risk Management Order No. 11 Amendment – Dated November 18, 2021

The current Disaster Risk Management Order has now been posted on the Ministry of Justice website, which has a new look for the arrangement of its archive of these gazetted Orders. Perhaps the transition to this new arrangement was what was causing some glitches to the page over the past couple of days. Neither Order No. 11 nor this Amendment is posted on the OPM website yet.

Here is a copy of this gazetted Order, Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 11)(Amendment) Order, 2021: