Jamaica is experiencing an “epidemic wave” in coronavirus cases, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has confirmed, while warning the region to prepare for a “rapid resurgence” of the virus that’s killed more than one million people globally.
In an epidemiological alert issued Friday, PAHO said governments should prepare health services “to face recurrent waves and outbreaks occurring in different locations within the same country, simultaneously or at different points in time, as the economy progressively reopens”.
PAHO’s Dr Eldonna Boisson told The Gleaner in a September 29 interview that COVID-19 surveillance was one of the critical areas of regional response that needed bolstering, an issue that now takes on greater urgency.
“There has been strengthening taking place. But I think even more so as we move towards the introduction of a vaccine, it’s going to be important to have very good surveillance,” said the organisation’s adviser on diseases surveillance and epidemiology.
Boosting surveillance capacities to identify and respond to the virus’ spread, the expert argued, will also be crucial for the “balancing act” needed to support economic growth without threatening public health.
The Caribbean is heavily dependent on tourism, but lockdown measures globally have severely affected growth. S&P Global Rating is expecting tourism in the region to decline by 60 to 70 per cent from April to December.
That is a punishing prospect for economies where tourism is a main earner and key employer and is, therefore, why authorities are keen on reopening quickly.
Jamaica and the Dominican Republic might lose between five and 11 per cent of GDP, according to a July report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development that looked at COVID-19’s impact on tourism.
“They must relax restrictions in order to build the economy; without the economy, they don’t have health,” said Boisson. “But, then, if health is overwhelmed, then you don’t have people to work the economies, so the two are very intricately related.”
She continued: “Surveillance will have to be very good so they know what is happening and compare the cases they have to the capacity they have to treat with cases.”
In the alert, PAHO noted that the Americas accounted for 49 per cent of the total COVID-19 cases and 55 per cent of the total deaths reported globally, based on figures up to October 5.