Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced that Jamaica will “shortly” return to a mask mandate in light of the island entering the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing the audience at the handover ceremony of a New Social Housing Project (NSHP) in St James today (May 20), Holness noted that he observed that just around 70 per cent of individuals present were wearing masks.
“It is going to be a requirement shortly for all our citizens to return to wearing their masks,” the prime minister said after removing his own mask on establishing that he was socially distanced from others as he spoke at the podium.
“As you know, we are in the fifth wave and it will be a continuing feature of life going forward that we will for some time be experiencing recurrent bouts of increased infections from this disease. It is called the endemic phase, meaning that the disease is becoming a part of our daily routine.”
The prime minister’s comments came as the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s Clinical Management Summary for May 19 revealed a 37.9 per cent positivity rate and 366 new confirmed cases for the previous 24 hours. There were three deaths, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 3,021.
“After two years, everyone should know how to behave in order to protect themselves from the virus,” the prime minister noted as he renewed an appeal for individuals to get vaccinated.
Already, the Ministry of Education and Youth has reestablished a mask mandate for all schools across the island, as educational institutions have reported an increasing number of teachers and students contracting the virus.
It was only in March that the country fully resumed face-to-face classes in schools for an education system that suffered significant learning loss since closing their doors and resorting to strictly online learning for the past two years.
With those learning losses and the devastation suffered by businesses and the overall economy, as a result of the preventative measures that became necessary at the height of the pandemic, the Government will have no desire to return to lockdowns and curfews that became a feature of life for the past two years.
With that clearly in mind, Holness latched on to a glimmer of hope, noting that, so far, the current spike in infections has not translated into the levels of serious hospitalisations that brought the health sector to the brink during previous waves.
At the same time he stressed that, while the country was maintaining the capacity of beds in hospitals, resources that had been diverted from other health services had gone back to providing non-COVID-19 related care and there was no desire to see them having to be diverted once again.
“I am urging all Jamaicans to act responsibly; by now we know what to do,” the prime minister said.
“If you have not yet gotten your vaccine, I encourage you to do so. Vaccine sites are still open, and vaccination is ongoing, get vaccinated. Wear your mask, particularly indoors, but wear them generally, practice social distancing and sanitise.”