National coronavirus coordinating mechanism being implemented

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton

The Government will be putting a National Coordinating Mechanism in place to monitor and contain the novel coronavirus, in the event of an outbreak.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton, said the Cabinet-sanctioned measure will see a team, to be headed by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), being established to lead Jamaica’s heightened preparations.

He further advised that the Ministry will be liaising with various stakeholder partners to oversee the process.

“Normally, when you have threats of this type, it is better to create a national coordinating body, which involves multiple stakeholders and ministries. More often than not, it is led by ODPEM; and so ODPEM would play a dominant role in pulling all the teams together,” he said.

Dr. Tufton made the announcements during a media briefing at the Ministry’s offices in New Kingston on Wednesday (February 5).

He advised that the Ministry will be pivotal in providing technical health leadership, “and so over the next few days, we will be pulling together this National Coordinating Mechanism” on which “we have already started working”.

Dr. Tufton said a similar team was established in 2014 to lead Jamaica’s heightened Ebola preparations.

Travel restriction

He advised that heightened restrictions on travel from China remain in effect, noting that only Jamaican nationals, permanent residents and those with marriage exemption will be granted landing privileges.

“All travellers will be subject to immediate quarantine for a minimum of 14 days; travellers who show any symptom of the novel coronavirus will be put in immediate isolation,” the Minister emphasised.

Dr. Tufton pointed out that these measures are in addition to the usual port health and immigration rules and procedures for aircraft and sea craft.

“It is not that we won’t accept persons coming from China… but there are elevated restrictions on those persons. Clearly our nationals cannot be disallowed from coming to their own country, and so Jamaicans will always be accepted; but they will be restricted in terms of their movement,” he said.

Dr. Tufton indicated that quarantine facilities are provided by the Government in some cases, adding that isolation facilities are operational at public hospitals.

He informed that there are now 13 persons in quarantine and one in isolation, adding that the isolated patient does not meet the case definition for the coronavirus.

Explaining the difference between the arrangements, Dr. Tufton said quarantine facilities restrict individuals’ movements for 14 days.

Isolation versus quarantine

“Isolation speaks more to persons who display flu-like symptoms and are, therefore, placed in a hospital setting under [medical] supervision to treat with those symptoms… but at the same time to validate or rule out any possibility of them having the virus,” he said.

Dr. Tufton said each traveller from China will be assessed to determine the type of quarantine arrangement to be applied. Additionally, he said the analyses will be done using a special risk-assessment tool.

“Those determined to be high risk will be quarantined in a government facility [while] those determined to be low risk will be quarantined at home. Those quarantined at home will be followed up daily by healthcare teams at the parish level,” he informed.

Dr. Tufton assured that the Government remains vigilant in its efforts to protect the population from the coronavirus, adding that frequent updates will be provided to keep the country abreast of emerging developments.

 “It may be a weekly update; [but] if we think it can be every other week, then we will do that. But the situation is fluid and we will watch it as we go along,” he said.