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SITUATION ROOM: “OPERATION CONTAIN COVID 19”
At approximately 11:00 am on Tuesday, March 1oth, 2020, there was a spine-chilling sweep that floated across the press briefing room when the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton made the announcement that Jamaica had recorded its first imported case of the contagious and lethal COVID-19 Virus by the entry of a Jamaica citizen returning from the United Kingdom.
The seemingly tactful, nonchalant and stern look on the faces of the Minister of Health and Wellness (Major General), his Permanent Secretary (Chief of Staff) Mr. Dunstan Bryan and his Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie (Lieutenant Colonel) in no uncertain terms indicated to persons watching and listening that Jamaica’s Health Care System, by worldwide indications and reports was preparing for a possible warfare with this new virus. The Juxtaposition of “Health Care System” and “Warfare” is not intended to remove the ‘humanity’ and ‘specialist care’ away from Health Care but rather to demonstrate the strategic and combative approach that must be taken to contain the enemy of the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, within this context, how effective has Jamaica’s Health Care System been in executing ‘Operation Contain COVID-19’?
WERE WE PREPARED FOR THIS WAR?
Political views and personal biases aside; the general consensus among most Jamaican citizens and other regional and global partners is that the Jamaican State started early preparations to contain the possible spread of COVID-19. Let us succinctly put the timeline into context, The Chinese Government announced the first possible case of the Corona (COVID-19) virus by January 9th, 2020. This announcement led to the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a global health outbreak emergency. On Friday, January 31st, 2020, Jamaica imposed a travel ban on persons traveling to and from China. The Ministry of Health and Wellness through the assistance of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) trained nine (9) health care workers on how to test for the Corona (COVID-19) virus. In fact, one may even argue that up to Monday, April 13th, 2020, where Jamaica had only seventy-three (73) confirmed cases, after five (5) weeks of the first case being recorded, the projectile and contraction rate was pretty low and slow. Noteworthy of mentioning is the endorsement the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton received from the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus on Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 for his leadership and preparedness in light of the pandemic.
Frankly speaking, as an essential services worker within the Ministry of Health and Wellness, I can say that a consorted effort was made within the health services to garner additional medical resources, train front line health workers and even discuss flexible adjustments to the working schedule to prepare for the possible effects of this virus. However, let me hasten to say that in my opinion, while there was a general sense of preparedness island-wide, it was not equitable in all areas of the health care system. Admittedly, there are some health care facilities and health care workers that were not made prepared for this pandemic due to either lack of sufficient resources to spread proportionately or the Ministry’s focus on mostly the Secondary Level Care institutions i.e. major hospitals; thereby leaving our primary level care institutions i.e. health centres and community clinics in a less comfortable preparedness mode. Ironically, our health centres and community clinics are mainly the first point of contact for most citizens, especially those in the remote/rural areas of Jamaica and they would need to be “battle” equipped to assist the hospitals to contain a possible community spread.
POST “ALORICA ATTACK”: BATTLE PLAN
According to the latest statistics published on Saturday, May 02nd, 2020 coming from the Ministry of Health and Wellness website; Jamaica currently has Four Hundred and Sixty Three (463) confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Virus. Admittedly, since the “Alorica Attack” on April 14th, 2020, the Jamaican warfare against this virus took a damaging blow to the containment efforts and reducing the spread. To categorically place our situation into context, there are two hundred and seventeen (217) confirmed cases related to Alorica Business Processing Outsourcing workplace. That is almost three (3) times the number of cases within the first five (5) weeks! The Ministry of Health and Wellness, led by the “Major General” Minister Tufton are still seemingly trying recover after this massive blow, which by all indications has sent the projectile for Jamaica at a continuous vertical climb over the last few weeks. To use a fitting warfare analogy, the enemy has gained massive ground on our health care workers, i.e. our troops who are working tirelessly to trace the spread of each confirmed case and also contain the confirmed cases. In response, the Government has sought to limit the effect of the attack by implementing stricter curfew measures, mandating the wear of the necessary personal protective equipment’s such as masks and in instances a complete lockdown in certain areas. The measures while welcomed and are necessary have taken a debilitating effect on the country’s economy and the fatigue and frustration suffered by the health workers, other essential staff and the regular citizen is evident in their daily lives. Therefore, the questions remain: What is the next move for The Ministry of Health and Wellness (Jamaica’s warfare strategists?) What will it take to retake ground on the enemy and send the projectile graph downward?
Firstly, it is imperative for the strategist to remember that “proper timing” is the key to any possible relief from the continued spread of COVID-19. The same proactive defensive mechanisms that were put in place at the start of the outbreak worldwide helped to slow the pace at which it came our shores was successful largely due to the ‘timing’ by which those measure were implemented. Needless to say that the Ministry of Health and Wellness should focus proactively on the areas where the risk of spread is greater than others. i.e work spaces and other frequent public gatherings. The fact of the matter is the operational set-up of the Business Processing Outsourcing (Call Centres) was a disaster waiting to happen and a weak spot that the enemy manipulated. While I understand and admit that there are several variables that affect the “Alorica Attack”, however, the questions remain was there proper timing that stipulated the allowed numbers of staff that should be working in the building during this pandemic? Did the Government of Jamaica stipulate a timeline and guideline for when all BPO’s should be operating remotely? or what percentage of the workforce should operate at any given time? Did the Government lockdown the parish St. Catherine too late?
Finally, I do not claim to have advance knowledge in medicine nor do I claim to be an expert in tracing and containing a pandemic like virus. However, while I appreciate that the health care technocrats and political directorate are doing their utmost best in keeping us in this war against COVID-19, I believe that a large part of the outcome of this warfare lies in the personal responsibility of each Jamaica citizen. The very nature of this virus requires a host to continue its spread and if we are able to limit the transmission among ourselves by staying at home, wearing our masks, cleaning and sanitizing our areas; this remains the greatest battle strategy that we can deploy which will ultimately slow the spread of the virus. We must remain resilient, focused and ready to continue this warfare against COVID-19, for it is only in the good virtue of mankind and the mercy of God Almighty that may cause us to be victorious in the end.