Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie delivered an ominous warning last evening as the country braces for a third wave of the coronavirus spread, disclosing that the peak week could bring 180 deaths.
Bisasor-McKenzie has hailed the lockdown measures as being an effective armour against the deadly COVID-19, which has killed 770 Jamaicans so far.
The CMO said the public health measures have helped significantly to turn the tide, including pushing down the positivity rate in the country.
“Overall, it does appear that the measures that have been put in place are having an effect, and we are seeing a decrease in the number of cases and the number of admissions to hospitals,” she said.
The CMO said data show that the average number of infections one person transmits was about two to three, without any restrictive measures.
But with strong public-health measures, she said the figure fell to below two.
“Usually what happens is that we see that whatever we are doing is working, the numbers start trending down, and we start to feel that we need to open up and allow more movement, and as soon as we do that, we see the reproductive rate going up, and shortly after, our numbers start to go up again,” the CMO said at a Ministry of Health and Wellness media briefing.
Bed occupancy and deaths from COVID are also trending down.
“All of these decreases are not reasons to relax,” she warned as the positivity rate is still triple the globally accepted threshold of five per cent.
The average positivity rate since the start of the pandemic is 16.2 per cent.
At the start of the first wave (August), the positivity rate hovered over 3 per cent, but it went as high as 25 per cent.
The second wave started (December) with a positivity rate of approximately 10 per cent, peaking at 38.9 per cent.
“Can you imagine if we were to go into a third wave starting at a 15 per cent positivity rate? It means that our number of cases would be far more than what our number of cases would have peaked at before,” the CMO stressed.
Bisasor McKenzie said the public-health system was already under extreme pressure and that healthcare workers were overwhelmed.
Bisasor-McKenzie noted that larger, better-resourced public-health systems have collapsed under the weight of the pandemic and warned that Jamaica was facing the possibility of a third wave.
At least 1,900 beds would be required for the third wave – which is above the current capacity.
The 180-death forecast at the peak of a third wave compares to mortalities of 31 and 59 in the first peak week of the first and second waves, respectively.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is also wary of a third wave.
“We see this happening in other jurisdictions. We see other jurisdictions preparing for it and predicting it, and so we are not immune, and we can’t afford to be complacent,” the minister said.
More than 39,000 Jamaicans will be eligible to get their second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine beginning next week.
Tufton said that of the new batch of 55,200 vaccine doses received this week, 40,000 are reserved for the individuals eligible for their second shot.
The remaining 15,200, pooled with 11,800 previously in stock, will be allocated to priority groups.