On March 17, 2022, when the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) for Covid-19 management orders ended, the general mask mandate ended.
On March 18, 2022, under the Public Health Act – Public Health Enforcement Measures (Coronavirus Covid-19) Order 2022 – a mask mandate for enclosed spaces came into effect and was scheduled to expire on April 15, 2022.
On March 22, 2022, Minister of Education Fayval Williams confirmed to Morning Agenda host Jodi-Ann Quarrie that the wearing of masks was no longer mandated for schools. Highly recommended but no longer mandated.
On April 15, 2022, the mask mandate under the Public Health Act Covid-19 Order expired and was not renewed.
On May 18, 2022, at a Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) press briefing, Minister Chris Tufton officially confirmed what others had been saying, that Jamaica was now experiencing a 5th wave of Covid-19. He said the wave was probably caused by the highly transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant and had an inflection point of around April 20, 2022.
At the May 18, 2022 MOHW briefing, Minister of Education Fayval Williams confirmed that an increase in Covid-19 cases in schools was being reported.
On May 19, 2022, via a General Bulletin, the Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY) informed school administrators that “the wearing of masks is mandatory at school effective immediately and until further advised.” The general public learned of this reintroduction via the media…social and traditional.
On May 20, 2022, while speaking at a handover ceremony in St James, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that “It is going to be a requirement shortly for all of our citizens to return to wearing their masks.” This was widely reported in the media, with clips of the PM’s words.
On May 22, 2022, Jamaica Information Service (JIS) published a report about the PM’s statement titled “Gov’t To Reintroduce Mask Mandate”.
But here we are, on May 30, 2022, ten days later, with no mask mandate reintroduced and with no indication when…or if…this reintroduction of the mask mandate will take place.
Quite frankly, this inaction and lack of certainty is unacceptable. We have heard nothing further since Prime Minister Holness spoke about it. Was it an off the cuff statement to ease the pressure at the time but with no substance to it? Or has the PM changed his mind since? Or have the public health experts at the MOHW advised that the reintroduction of a mask mandate isn’t necessary, advice which they have supported with scientific data or references?
The PM has left us hanging. Not a comfortable position to be in at the best of times. And a Covid-19 wave, however gentle when compared to previous waves, is not the best of times. The public is entitled to some clarity on this. PM Holness? Minister Tufton? CMO Bisasor-McKenzie?
(And, yes, I know that we keep being told that these are policy decisions. And advice from the technical experts to the Cabinet is privileged. And that is the convention. But I increasingly question this convention, as decisions on serious public health matters during a pandemic are being made, with the public not entitled to know if our government’s decisions are in line with or contrary to the advice being given by public health experts.)
Below is a chart showing some of the MOHW numbers for the past 2 weeks.
And the report for yesterday has just been released…
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.
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.
I heard the Commissioner of Police, Dr Carl Williams, being interviewed on Nationwide radio yesterday afternoon. During the interview, the Commissioner said that as of now, when people wear masks at political meetings, the masks will be removed by the police.
I would ask the Commissioner to clarify what provision in law the police would be acting on in doing so.
I am genuinely seeking an answer.
The Commissioner and other members of the JCF have been raising the concern about the practice of wearing masks to political meetings. The Commissioner said during the interview that people who wear masks are concealing their identities with the intention of committing criminal acts. (There was some irony to this, given long-standing complaints about the practice of some police of wearing masks during operations, effectively concealing their identities in instances of alleged police abuses.) Cliff Hughes, who was conducting the interview, later raised the possibility that those wearing masks were wanting to attend meetings of both parties without being identified.
Given the shooting on Sunday night during the JLP mass meeting in Sam Sharpe Square, in which two people were killed, a number of people were shot and injured and the safety of many more threatened, I can understand the desire of the police to increase security at political events. The Commissioner said that police investigations indicated that the incident wasn’t politically motivated, but was related to conflict between two gangs based in the Flankers community in MoBay. He has said that criminals would use any event as an opportunity to carry out their criminal actions.
It is one thing for the police to express their concerns; to encourage people not to wear masks to political meetings; to ask the political parties to get their supporters to desist from the practice; to seek a meeting with the Political Ombudsman to gain her support in having the practice banned. It is another thing for the police to actually be removing masks, unless there is a power in law which provides for them to do so.
If the police have a reasonable suspicion that a masked person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime, then the police can arrest the person and require the removal of the mask as part of the process of establishing the person’s identity. But other than that?
I hope Commissioner Williams will clarify.
(This does lead to a more general discussion about the extent of an individual’s right to cover their face in public, which in some countries has led to heated debate.)