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JAM | Dec 2, 2023

Chris Tufton | COVID-19 pandemic was ‘the best of times, it was the worst of times’ for Jamaica

/ Our Today

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A Jamaican endures a nasopharyngeal test to determine COVID-19 infection.

Jamaica’s Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton distinguished himself with the way the ministry, under his leadership, handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

He has proven a successful operator with every portfolio he has been given and is  consistently named as one of the most popular and effective ministers of government in polls.

It was therefore fitting that he would speak and give his insights at the launch of Audrey Hinchcliffe’s book, ‘A Time Like No Other-The COVID-19 Pandemic. Perspectives on Jamaica’s Experience‘. 

The event took place at the AC Marriott Hotel in New Kingston on Wednesday evening (November 29).

Below is Dr. Tufton’s full address: 

Today we celebrate Mrs. Audrey Stewart-Hinchcliffe, a distinguished Jamaican businesswoman and philanthropist with decades of experience in public health, who has written ‘A Time Like No Other: Lessons from COVID-19‘.

(OUR TODAY photo)

It is an important book that chronicles a very significant era in Jamaica’s history from the standpoint of one with viewpoints and recommendations founded in expertise and hard-nosed pragmatism. In my view, we do not write or document enough as a country, and too often run the risk of not learning from experience. 

I want to use this opportunity to commend Ms. Hinchcliffe for the time and effort she has put into sharing her valuable insights into an important part of Jamaica’s history for present and future generations. Manpower & Maintenance Services Ltd played a pivotal role during the pandemic, cleaning and sanitising spaces in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. We say thanks to their company for their contributions.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens’ famous opening sentences to ‘A Tale Of Two Cities‘ come to mind when I reflect on the COVID-19 Pandemic. I believe I am more qualified than most to say this with conviction.

Jamaica recorded its first case on March 10, 2020, and eased restrictions two years later in March 2022.

On reflection it was the worst of times – our country faced the greatest threat in its post-independence history. 

The loss of life and economic damage have been greater than Hurricane Gilbert, but hurricanes only last for a few days at most, and even when the damage is long-lasting, it is finite and measurable. 

When the pandemic hit and we were forced to restrict movement and shut down the country, hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans lost their livelihoods.

A nurse extracts a dose of AstraZeneca coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine during the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ mobile vaccination drive in the community of Thicketts, St Ann on October 8, 2021. (Photo: Facebook @ChrisTufton)

It was a journey into the unknown as information about the virus was continuously evolving. There was a global shortage of vaccines, masks, and other protective gear. 

There was great concern that Jamaica’s health system could be overwhelmed if the numbers of patients became unmanageable or if too many healthcare workers became infected and unable to work.

But, it was also the best of times. Jamaicans, despite being a freedom-loving people, mostly abided by the restrictions. 

Our healthcare workers, at all levels, rose to the challenges, performed courageously and well in very difficult circumstances, and deserve every commendation. 

Government ministries and agencies, our international partners, and the Private Sector all provided significant assistance to the National response. There was a sense of unity in the face of an existential threat.

Dickens spoke of wisdom, belief, foolishness, and incredulity. He must have been a prophet, able from the nineteenth century to see the present-day impact of social media and the challenge it poses to public health policy. 

Dr Christopher Tufton delivering remarks at the book launch of Audrey Hinchcliffe on Wednesday, November 29, 2023. (OUR TODAY photo)

This plays out in multiple ways as many are now doing their own “research” and undermining confidence and trust in established science-based policy prescriptions. 

But we continue to monitor and respond expeditiously to the ongoing threat that has already taken the lives of over 3,600 Jamaicans and fomented a potential crisis in mental health.

Again, I want to commend Mrs. Stewart-Hinchcliffe for the shared knowledge through her book, and to also close by saying, I endorse the publication and encourage everyone to read it and preserve it as part of Jamaica’s rich literary heritage.


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