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.