(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – The 27-year-old man who fled a quarantine facility in St Andrew Monday night, causing alarm, could be slapped with charges, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said yesterday, as he announced that the country’s first imported case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) — a woman — had been confirmed.
Dr Tufton said the ministry is now seeking the assistance of the police to beef up security at quarantine facilities. “I had a conversation with the police commissioner and we are in dialogue around what needs to be done additionally to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Dr Tufton disclosed at a press conference.
The St Mary man, who arrived in the island on March 7, was being observed in relation to the novel coronavirus at the Kingston facility.
According to Dr Tufton, the man not only left against the instruction of health care workers, but his action was in contravention of the law.
“…We have to discourage this kind of activity. Our responsibility as a Government is to protect the well-being of the society, and if persons knowingly put the rest of us in a compromising position, then the law has a response for that,” the minister stated.
Under public health law, an individual who is found guilty of an offence for which no penalty is provided elsewhere is liable, on conviction before a parish court, to a fine of up to $12,500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.
The health minister stressed, however, that the man had not displayed symptoms of the novel coronavirus, saying people who arrive from any of the now eight countries of interest to Jamaica are subject to quarantine for 14 days. “The fact that the person went out doesn’t necessarily symbolise a threat,” he said, pointing out that health care workers will track down the individuals with whom the man was in contact if he manifests symptoms of the virus.
There are now four quarantine facilities across the island, and three more are being identified.
Minister Tufton said hospitals are being retrofitted; there are adequate personal protection gear on hand; and medical supplies that can serve up to three months, with more available on demand.
Addressing the confirmed case of the woman who arrived in the island from the United Kingdom on March 4, he said she started displaying symptoms and was isolated on March 9. He said the situation is under control, with the individual under treatment in isolation.
“… We have done the interrogation, we know who to contact, we have already made contact and what we have to do is observe. So we are doing the work while keeping our fingers crossed that this individual is the only affected individual at this point,” said the health minister.
Jamaica is the sixth country in the region, but the first in the English-speaking Caribbean to have a confirmed case of COVID-19. The other countries are French Guiana, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Saint Martin, and Saint Barthelemy.
Yesterday, Dr Tufton urged Jamaicans not to engage in hysteria and rumour-mongering, as most cases of the virus are mild, and people have been recovering globally.
He said if, eventually, it spreads — an occurrence which the ministry is putting measures in place to prevent — Jamaicans must be reminded that COVID-19 does not equate to a death sentence.
He emphasised that the vast majority of Jamaicans who may contract the virus will recover, and that the vulnerable groups are older persons with underlying conditions.
“So while it is our intention to keep the virus out of Jamaica or to contain it, when it is discovered, we do not want persons to engage in panic because they interpret the virus to mean the most extreme result, because that is certainly not the history of the virus in other countries. We just have to deal with it, and that is what we are doing,” he said.