Tufton says removing mask mandate could spell danger

January 21, 2022

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday urged Jamaicans to perish the thought of the country removing the need for the wearing of masks in public spaces.

Under the Disaster Risk Management Act, the main legislative tool being used to fight COVID-19, it is an offence to be in public spaces without masks.

Tufton was responding to a question posed during his ministry's COVID Conversations on Thursday night. He said that it would be "naive" to suggest that "because the UK is lifting mask-wearing we should lift it too".

He reasoned that relaxation of COVID restrictions in Jamaica has contributed to the near 50 per cent infection positivity rate now being experienced as the country goes through a fourth COVID wave. He said that "to do more, as others have, like removing mask, would create significant challenges for us".

"To remove mask at this point in time would be tantamount to a free for all. Frankly speaking, I think the mask is what is helping a lot of us not to get infected. A free-for-all will almost make it a wild west."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britons will no longer be required to wear masks as of Wednesday. He also said that compulsory self-isolation for people with COVID will come to an end on March 24. His health secretary, Sajid Javid, said that "we must learn to live with COVID in the same way we live with flu".

Tufton, meanwhile, argued that it is important to understand the context in which Britain has moved to implement the new policy.

"The UK has much higher vaccination rate than we do, including booster shots. They have far better hospital facilities than we do, including personnel, and they have other things working in their favour in terms of how the virus has passed through their population, where they have got a more improved chance of dealing with any outbreak, whether across the country or amongst any segments of the population," the minister said.

In addition to having a 71.4 per cent vaccination rate, government figures show that 69 per cent of people 12 years old and older have received their booster dose.

"In our case, we have a 22 per cent vaccination rate, we have a hospital [system] that has a capacity of 1,200 beds before we start running into significant challenges, and other forms of inputs like oxygen, that if we are not careful, and it becomes a free for all, then we end up with persons dying because they are unvaccinated as the data suggested earlier," he added.

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