Tue | Jan 18, 2022

High COVID-19 bed occupancy could derail gains – Tufton

Published:Wednesday | December 1, 2021 | 12:13 AM
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton gestures during his address to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton gestures during his address to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Even as Jamaica makes progress in driving down COVID-19 infections, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has warned that high levels of bed occupancy by suspected and confirmed coronavirus patients could derail the country’s recovery trajectory.

Most COVID-19 indicators are pointing in the right direction, with the geographic spread of the virus at a medium level, with just 25 per cent of communities across the island being affected with new cases, Tufton told the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Daily positivity rates which, at the heights of the third wave in summer had topped 50 per cent, have fallen below the global accepted benchmark of five per cent. Monday’s infection rate was 3.3 per cent.

But the concern persists that the caseloads at hospitals that caused the health sector to buckle in August could quickly resurface amid a new spike.

“We are not fully out of the woods as yet, because bed occupancy remains under pressure with over 300 persons in hospital with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases,” he said.

That number represents 42 per cent of the just over 700 beds earmarked for COVID-19 patients.

“This is still an area of concern as we move into the end of the year where the general occupancy in hospital tends to increase,” Tufton said.

Nearly 19 per cent of Jamaicans are fully vaccinated, translating to about 27 per cent of the target population.

But the pace of vaccination indicates that the Government is unlikely to hit its 65 per cent target by March 2022.

That threat is magnified as scientists and drugmakers grapple with the emerging Omicron variant which appears to be more transmissible, and complex, than the fast-spreading Delta that caused global infections to spiral.

Omicron, which has been designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and has been identified in 19 countries, could complicate the projected fourth wave of infections that may hit Jamaica’s shores by yearend or January.

Opposition Spokesman on Health Dr Morais Guy cautioned Jamaicans to maintain the strict observance of COVID-19 prevention protocols, including handwashing, sanitisation, physical distancing, and mask wearing.

“Unless we do that, when we vaccinate and we have 65 per cent of the population vaccinated, with emerging and variant changes that we are seeing, we are going to have the problem of COVID-19 spread,” said Guy.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com