CHRISTMAS CAUTION - Jamaicans told holiday recklessness could drive up infections, deaths

November 20, 2020

National epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr says if Jamaicans treat the Christmas holiday like they did previous ones, the country's COVID situation could take a turn for the absolute worse, jeopardising the public health response.

"For sure, what we saw in the Emancipation, Independence weekend was what we used to model the scenario for Christmas. And we know Christmas can be much worse. If what happened over Emancipation and Independence week happens (for the Christmas holiday) we will be likely to exceed our health system capacity by Christmas Day," she told THE WEEKEND STAR yesterday.

As of Thursday, there are almost 56 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally, with 27,302 cases recorded in the Caribbean region. There have been 4,481 deaths in the region. On Wednesday, Jamaica had 10,088 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 616 coming over a two-week period. There are 235 deaths. Webster-Kerr said that Jamaica could come close to 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases if persons do not adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

Large family dinners

"We have to do Christmas safe. It comes down to that. And the short interaction with our family, we have to ensure that we don't do the parties and the large family dinners. And if we are going to do family dinners, it should be preferably just your immediate family," she said.

Travel bookings to Jamaica indicate that more than 76,000 persons are expected to enter Jamaica between November and December via the Norman Manley International Airport, one of the island's two international airports.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday warned that "to indulge ourselves can be dangerous" even as he said "a lot depends on how we manage the situation".

"If we get complacent, if we decide to practise in our traditional cultural, customary form, a Christmas of excursion, mixing and mingling, the reality is we could face a much greater risk of spread of the COVID virus," the minister said.

Tufton said that while the forecast could be "depressing" there is no need for extreme measures such as an abandonment of the infection prevention methods due to COVID fatigue.

He said, too, that there is no need to wave goodbye to Christmas, but Jamaicans should use the knowledge about the virus to determine the way the holidays are celebrated.

Prime Minister Andre Holness is expected to announce by December 1, whether the restrictions imposed to curtail the spread of the virus would be relaxed for the Christmas period.

"Greater numbers of persons visiting our shores means an increase in the probability of infection. We have seen it happen in the past, we anticipate it will happen again, which means the very distinct and strong possibility, given the tradition of Christmas, that we will see a spike in January," Tufton said. "Not only does the probability of infections go up, the likelihood of death also goes up."

He noted that respiratory and flu-like illness are normally on the increase at this time of the year. He reasoned that when dengue and COVID-19 are added to the equation, "we really are looking to stir the pot, should we decide to take a break from our strict adherence to infection prevention and control measures, namely mask wearing and physical distancing together with frequent handwashing and compliance with quarantine".

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