Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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.


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…


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Chief Medical Officer’s Covid-19 Update for Oct 7, 2021

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) had established a practice of weekly Covid-19 press conferences, usually held on Thursday evenings. For the past few months, however, this weekly practice has been less reliable, with gaps of a week or more occurring between press conferences. This was particularly problematic during the height of the current wave of the pandemic; fueled by the Delta variant, it has been the worst of the three waves Jamaica has experienced.

Yesterday was Thursday and I tweeted the MOHW a question about whether there would be a Covid Conversation (what the press conferences have been called for some time) and they responded saying no. This actually wasn’t much of a surprise, given that there had been a press conference last week and that the Ministry had been facing a lot of pressure and criticism from the public and in Parliament this week.

What was a surprise was to learn last night, via a Twitter thread by Gleaner journalist Jovan Johnson, that CMO Dr Bisasor-Mckenzie had given a recorded Covid-19 update, which was sent to the media by MOHW. This is not a common practice.

I am glad that this update was given. It is not a true substitute for a live press conference, but it does give the public some additional important information. Neither the text nor the video recording of the update has yet been posted online on the MOHW website. It was said that the video recording would be released by the Jamaica Information Service(JIS), but I have not seen a link on the JIS website. This all shows immediately the difference in access by the public compared to when MOHW press conferences are carried live by Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) and immediately posted on their YouTube channel. PBCJ has actually used some of the CMO’s recording in their news roundup today and in a special report.

I have posted here a copy of the text of the CMO’s update:

To illustrate the way in which these updates add to the information given in the daily MOHW Clinical Management Summaries, I will refer to this chart I compiled using some of the figures given in these summaries.

The hospitalization numbers in the daily reports show a strong downward trend but in her update yesterday, CMO Bisasor-McKenzie noted that daily hospital admissions have been increasing in the past week.

And she made the added comment, “This means that despite the trending down of hospitalizations, if the trend for admissions going up continues, our bed occupancy will increase.” This changes the perspective of our current situation somewhat.

Also of particular note in yesterday’s update are the comments about the delay in the availability of the 2nd dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

With so many ongoing issues, questions and concerns, it would be useful for MOHW to return to regular, weekly press conferences.

For convenience, I have included the statement below as well.


Covid Reflections: With Public Hospitals Accepting Emergencies Only, We Have Entered Another Phase in Our 3rd Wave

Yesterday Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness issued a press release stating that the country’s public hospitals would be accepting emergency cases only, until further notice. The large number of people confirmed with or suspected of having Covid-19 who need hospitalisation has resulted in the hospitals exceeding their Covid-19 isolation capacity. So other hospital spaces and resources have to be dedicated to treating people with Covid-19. General hospital service has been suspended, including elective surgeries, and people who can be cared for at home are being discharged. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Bisasor-McKenzie, is quoted as saying that “The rising demand for oxygen also threatens to overwhelm the supply.”

Curiously, this press release has not (yet) been posted on the MOHW website.

This decision by the MOHW signals that the country has entered into a new phase in the 3rd wave of Covid infections in Jamaica but it does not come as a surprise if you have been following the news and numbers in the past couple of months. And the news and numbers over the last week or two have clearly shown the deepening crisis.

People in government and outside of government have been speaking about the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases, the increasing numbers of hospital admissions, the pressure for space within the hospitals, the pressure on staff within the hospitals. These comments and information have come through official statements at government press conferences, through media interviews, in press releases, on social media.

A small sampling of examples…

Dr Melody Ennis of MOHW was speaking with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR
Nurse Patsy Edwards-Henry, President of Jamaica Nurses Association, was speaking with Sanjay Lewis on Power 106
MOHW PS Dunstan Bryan speaking with RJR
Slide shown at OPM press conference on August 9, 2021, while PM Andrew Holness spoke & said “I want us to pay attention to this graph. It shows our daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in blue, while the red line shows the 7-day moving average of new hospitalisations. You can see that our daily hospital admissions are now at the same level as our previous peak in March/April 2021. We now have approximately 500 of 700 beds allocated for Covid-19 occupied islandwide and a number of our large hospitals are over capacity.”
(Transcribed from PBCJ recording of OPM press conference, August 9, 2021.)
Slide presented at MOHW press conference August 12, 2021. CMO Dr Bisasor-McKenzie said: “We can see now, compared to last week, that our bed occupancy now is at over 600 beds occupied with both confirmed cases and suspected cases…Our peak, March/April, we were at just over 700 and now we are just over 600.”
(Transcribed from PBCJ recording of MOHW press conference.)
In a report on August 17, 2021, JIS covered this point made by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie, where she said “We are fast approaching that peak, which will put us in a very dangerous zone in terms of the care for COVID patients in our hospitals. It puts us in a very high level of pressure on the hospital system.”
Dr Andrew Manning, Medical Association of Jamaica President, in a news report on RJR, August 16-8-21 – MAJ Alarmed at Record High COVID Positivity Rate
Slide showing hospital capacity – OPM press briefing on August 19, 2021 – CMO Dr Bisasor-McKenzie said. ” And this is what is happening in our hospitals. Across the regions, what we are seeing is that the four regions are in an alert phase in terms of Covid capacity. For the southern region, we have gone over the capacity for Covid beds; we’re at 162% occupancy. For the western region, 142%. For the north east region, 125% and for the south east region at 97%. It means that most of our major hospitals, our main hospitals, are really full….As you can imagine, our health care workers are tired, they’re frustrated, they’re overworked, they’re stressed.”
(Transcribed from PBCJ recording.)
This week Wednesday (August 25, 2021) All Angles on TVJ did a special report about the Savanna-La-Mar Hospital, which is struggling with an influx of Covid-19 patients. Dionne Jackson Miller interviewed members of staff – doctors, nurses, a porter, the CEO – about conditions at the hospital. It was a harrowing and moving programme.

And today a number of media houses have carried reports that there is a severe shortage of medical oxygen in the country, which is now affecting the supply to hospitals, some of which are said to be out of oxygen. There has not at this point been an official statement on this from the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

There is an urgent need for a press conference to be held focusing on the dire crisis in the hospitals. Despite the many warnings that this was where we were heading, now that we are here, the public of Jamaica deserves a full update. This is particularly urgent in light of the fact that the Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, National Epidemiologist, has said that this 3rd wave won’t peak for another two weeks. That thereafter it is likely to take several months to come down from that peak. That, although she is reluctant to give predictions about deaths, we are likely to see 140-150 deaths over the next week and an additional 10-20 on top of that number the following week. (She was speaking in an interview on Nationwide News Network on Thursday, August 26, 2021). This means that the pressure on the hospitals is likely to continue for weeks to come, increasing further before it decreases.

It is Saturday night. The curfew started at 6pm. For the next 3 days, Jamaicans are under 24-hour curfews, with the curfew ending at 5am Tuesday morning. Tomorrow – Sunday – would be a good time to hold a press conference. Let us know what time. Most of us will be at home…


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Disaster Risk Management Orders 6 – 8, dated May 5, 2021 – July 27, 2021

For a number of months now I have been unable to keep up with posting the Disaster Risk Management Orders in a timely manner and am no longer going to try to do so. I will try to post them all for archival purposes, so that they are available here in the future if government websites eventually remove them, which has happened with other documents in the past.

If you don’t find the most recent Orders on my blog, I recommend checking two government sites, which are the two that post them most reliably nowadays – the Office of the Prime Minister & the Ministry of Justice‘s websites. The Office of the Prime Minister’s list is incomplete, however, not having some of the earliest orders. The Ministry of Justice’s list seems to be complete at this time.

Neither site has yet posted the current Order, which would contain the new measures announced by PM Holness on Monday of this week.

Below are links to Orders 6, 7 and 8 and their amendments. (One thing I need to follow up on is the absence of a first amendment to Order No. 6, as there is a second amendment.)

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 6) Order, 2021- May 5, 2021

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 6) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021 – May 25, 2021

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 7) Order, 2021 – June 3 2021

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 7) (Amendment) Order, 2021 – June 17, 2021

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 7) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 2021 – June 24, 2021

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 8) Order 2021 – July 1 2021

Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 8) (Amendment) Order 2021 – July 27 2021

Link to PBCJ recording of Office of the Prime Minister’s media briefing held on August 9, 2021, at which changes to the Disaster Risk Management measures were announced.


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Covid Reflections: What has happened to genome sequencing test results?

A few months ago, as the media reported on the surge of Covid cases caused by the Delta variant in first the UK and then the USA, some of us in Jamaica began asking whether the variant was present in Jamaica. There is a great deal of travel to Jamaica from these two countries – residents, members of the diaspora, tourists – and it seemed only a matter of time before we got cases of the Delta variant here. Was testing being done for the variant by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and, if so, what had been found?

Responding to a question at the MOHW Covid-19 press conference on July 1, 2021, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said the following:

“The Delta variant is something that we really are watchful for. We certainly don’t want to have that in country because we recognise that there is an increased transmissible rate and also that there is an increased chance of admission. And so in our population that is vastly not vaccinated, it does put us at risk. 


In terms of the testing for the variant, we did, we sent off 200 samples to PAHO testing laboratory in Brazil last week. We have another 92 samples that we have sent off to the CDC. I’m not absolutely sure that that went off this week, but that was the plan, to send off another 92 samples to the CDC and another hundred samples to PAHO to be tested in Panama. 


So we have three arrangements in place now. We really have had some problems in terms of getting the genomic sequencing done. And a lot of that delay has been because of transportation, not because we have not had willing partners to do the testing. But the transportation problems have delayed us getting the samples out, even to the extent that transportation routes, because they have to be longwinded, have resulted in damage to the samples that made not all of them at some times suitable for testing. So we believe that we have worked out something now, a more reliable transport method to get these samples out and we have three partners – the PAHO, CDC and CARPHA – to do the testing. So we do expect that at least every two weeks we should be getting out at least a hundred samples for testing.


The turnaround time once they receive the sample for PAHO, we have been told, is two weeks. The samples last batch went out last week. They are in receipt of the samples, so we are hopeful. We know that sometimes we get times and it may not turn out to be exactly that but we are hopeful that in another two weeks we will have that first set of results. And thereafter we should have results coming after.


We also have started to do some in house testing using kits that are donated by PAHO that enable us to choose the samples better for testing. So we have now a method in place where we can pick up whether or not there are mutations. So mutations can be quite varied and can sometimes not be of any significance at all. But we can now pick up if there are any variations from the normal wild type and those are the samples that we have been sending for testing for genomic sequencing to see if those mutations show any variants of interest or variants of concern.”

(Transcribed from PBCJ recording of July 1, 2021 MOHW press briefing)

This left me hopeful that, despite previous problems that had affected testing for variants, there was now a new system in place that would mean faster results that could help to inform government decisions and responses and help the public to better understand what we were facing. The time lag was still not optimal, but seemed better until we had the equipment needed to do genomic sequencing here.

However, there seemed to be a delay in the hoped for two week turnaround time for the results from PAHO and in a presentation on July 20, 2021, at the Joint Select Committee of Parliament dealing with Covid-19 and related matters, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr included this slide:

It showed that results had been received for samples sent to the CDC, but that no results had at that time been received for the samples sent to PAHO.

(I wrote about that presentation in Parliament in a post I made on July 22, 2021 – On the Verge of a Third Wave? – Jamaica’s Current Covid-19 Situation.)

And to date we have not had any clear update on what has happened regarding those and any other subsequent samples sent to any of the three labs for genomic sequencing. The most we have heard is comments during various media interviews or at press briefings that we are still awaiting results from overseas partners. And that there is no confirmation through testing that the Delta variant is here, but that from other indicators we can assume that it is.

At the press briefing on Monday, August 9, 2021, held to announce the latest changes to the Covid restriction measures, Minister Tufton said, in response to a question from Jamila Maitland about test results and the Delta variant:

“As it relates to the test for the variant strain, I think we are on record of saying that we do believe that it is here based on the movement between countries where it is the dominant strain. We have not yet confirmed its presence based on the test results that we have gotten to date. However, those results up to this point were results that were a little dated because it takes a while to get back the results from where we send them. We are anxiously anticipating the results of tests that would hopefully reflect more what is present in the population. But we continue to advise caution.”

Minister Chris Tufton, at OPM press briefing, August 9, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

It is now nearly six weeks since Dr Bisasor-McKenzie outlined the new arrangements for genomic sequencing testing and it is three weeks since the presentation and discussion at the Covid Joint Select Committee in Parliament. We really need a clear update on what has happened with the new arrangements and why it is that we haven’t seen any further results other than the CDC results shown on July 20.

I assume that the MOHW will be holding a press briefing on Thursday and that would be an appropriate opportunity for a full update. Some questions I would hope to hear answered would be:

  • Since the list shared shared on July 20, 2021, have the results of any samples sent for genomic sequencing been received from PAHO, CDC and CARPHA?
  • If so, when were these results received and what did they show?
  • If any results were received, what were the dates on which those samples were collected?
  • What samples have been sent for which results are still outstanding?
  • What has been the cause of the delay in receiving the results for samples sent? What has been or is being done to remedy this?
  • What impact do delays such as this have on the Ministry’s ability to make plans and decisions?
  • Specifically, is it still the case that there is no confirmation by testing that the Delta variant is present in Jamaica?
  • What is the current status of plans to be able to do genomic sequencing here?

Let’s see.

PBCJ Recording of MOHW press conference held on July 1, 2021

PBCJ Recording of OPM press conference held on August 9, 2021


“…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