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A fourth COVID wave could see 11,000 new infections, says Tufton

THE health ministry is projecting that Jamaica could see up to 11,000 new infections at the height of a fourth wave of the novel coronavirus, and possibly up to 400 deaths if the spread goes unabated.

Portfolio minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in a statement to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, stressed that the potential of a fourth wave of the virus is real as COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger to Jamaica. “I feel obliged to say it because I don’t want us to get complacent. This, of course, will also mean an overwhelming of the public health system. We have a collective duty, therefore, to ensure that we do not experience this fourth wave, certainly not in the magnitude that could be possible. Make every effort to ensure that we adhere to the protocols, the provisions under the Disaster Risk Management Act and, above all else, that we vaccinate before we celebrate,” said Dr Tufton.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has also indicated that the Government is on guard for the possibility of a fourth wave of infections which is likely in January, following the Christmas season. But he made it clear there are no plans to shut down the country again, as Jamaica must now face living with the virus, and that at some point there will be a cap on the number of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

Last week, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) urged a ramping up of public health and personal safety precautions going into the holidays, expressing concern that measures to prevent COVID spread have been lifted, or are being relaxed in many densely populated areas of the Americas, although vaccination numbers remain low.

The agency noted record high COVID-19 rates in Trinidad and Tobago, and high rates in other islands including Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and the Dominican Republic, warning that, notwithstanding a significant drop in cases in recent months, “the trends are telling”.

Head of PAHO Dr Carissa F Etienne said at a recent media briefing that the region needs to pay close attention to infection trends in Europe: “The future is unfolding before us, and it must be a wake-up call for our region because we are even more vulnerable,” she said.

Earlier this month, World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, said the continent was once again at the epicenter of the pandemic, pointing out that every country in Europe and central Asia was facing a real threat of COVID-19 resurgence, or were already fighting another surge.He pointed to the rapid pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the WHO European region, stressing that cases were once again approaching record levels, with the more transmissible Delta variant continuing to dominate transmission across Europe and central Asia.The emergence of a new variant, Omicron, has now heightened concerns global concerns about the virus, as at least 23 countries from five of six WHO regions have now reported cases of the strain. The WHO says it expects that number to grow, but it is not yet known whether the variant is any more severe or transmissible than other variants.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, announced yesterday that the US recorded its first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a vaccinated traveler who returned to California after a trip to South Africa — as scientists around the world race to establish whether the new mutant version of the novel corona-virus is more dangerous than previous ones.

At the same time The Associated Press reported that South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, signalling a dramatic surge in the country where scientists detected the Omicron variant last week. New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 yesterday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.

Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases following the discovery of the new Omicron variant.

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