Gov’t warns it will take control of private facilities if unwilling to cooperate

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton (Photo/; Shaquiel Brooks/BUZZ)

As the Government seeks an additional 600 isolation/quarantine rooms in its national response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton warns that taking those spaces from private facilities is not far removed from its considerations.

Speaking at Wednesday’s (March 25) digital press briefing, Tufton indicated that the stance will be guided by the legal parameters of the present public health emergency COVID-19 has thrust upon Jamaica.

“This type of accommodation that is required is absolutely critical to dealing with the community spread [of COVID-19] that is likely in the not too distant future and we are going to have to make some hard decisions as it relates to the suitability of this space. To the extent that this space exists in the private sector, we’re going to have to, hopefully, collaborate and get the willingness of those players to work with us in the public’s interest,” he said.

“The very last resort, if we’re not getting that cooperation, then there’s the possibility of triggering the law, under the emergency powers that exist, to dictate a position that would see us having possession of these properties,” the minister warned.

While it’s an uncomfortable prospect and not one the government would like to do, according to Tufton, the job will get done to safeguard as many lives in the fight against the novel coronavirus. He assured that if it comes to that, there will be a fair exchange in terms of the facilities’ market value and used the opportunity to encourage further negotiations.

“I say that to encourage further discussions and [to] those who can play a role as part of this national response to what is a national threat, for us to reach [at] accommodation in the days ahead,” Tutfon argued.

In the meantime, the minister noted that across the island, hospitals within the public network have an isolation capacity of 150 persons.

Tufton speaking at a press conference earlier in March. (Photo: Shaquiel Brooks/BUZZ)

The current isolation capabilities could be pushed to treat as many as 326 patients simultaneously in the best-case scenario, as it expects the outbreak to evolve and worsen.

“In terms of our [public] hospital readiness, we continue to expand to deal with any potential surge [in] capacity for our critical hospitals including KPH (Kingston Public Hospital), Port Antonio, Mandeville, Cornwall Regional, St Ann’s Bay, University Hospital of the West Indies, Bustamante Children’s and National Chest,” he indicated.

Tufton said the suggested 600 rooms would greatly enhance efforts at quarantining and isolation outside of the traditional hospital setting. He said that while a few offers have been favourable, negotiations continue.

In the ministry’s justification, even when one recovers from COVID-19 and is asymptomatic, the virus is still active and remains contagious for several weeks. These asymptomatic patients would, therefore, still need lodgement provisions to provide those isolation requirements outside of a high-intensity or intensive care unit (ICU) setting at hospital.