The Ministry of Health and Wellness says it has been assured by its main supplier of medical oxygen that it can support a surge capacity of up to 1,200 patients in COVID-19 beds, as the country battles the fourth wave of respiratory illness.
It says it also intends to diversify the supply of oxygen, including through public-private partnerships.
This comes, as the country tries to prevent another oxygen crisis, similar to the predicament it faced in late August and September last year, as COVID-19 cases surged. Its main supplier is IGL.
“As predicted, the fourth wave of the pandemic is here. The evidence is in the increase in cases over the last two weeks. More COVID-19 infections invariably mean more hospitalisations, which will put pressure on the public health system and the public health team,” Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton was quoted in a release from the ministry this afternoon.
In addition, in preparation for the current fourth wave of COVID-19, the ministry says temporary staff employed to support the operations of local health facilities and the National Vaccination Programme have had their contracts extended to March this year.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 bed capacity is also set to increase, with the final of eight field hospitals to be completed this month at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital. This will increase the country's bed count to some 745.
Tufton warned Jamaicans not to grow complacent, despite the measures being put in place.
“We have put measures in place, but do also want to caution Jamaicans not to grow complacent at this time of vulnerability. Along with the infection prevention and control measures, we continue to champion vaccination as critical to the success of our COVID-19 response,” Dr Tufton was quoted in the release issued by the ministry.
The health ministry reminded persons that to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, they may visit any of the more than 250 access points across the island. It's also reminding the public that booster doses are on offer at permanent vaccination sites.
It says members of the public and in particular, the elderly, as well as people living with a chronic illness, such as diabetes and hypertension, are encouraged to get their booster shots to help to prevent severe illness and death. Persons who are immunocompromised should also receive an additional dose of the vaccines.
The ministry is also making available self-test kits as an important tool to help contain the pandemic. As part of these efforts, the ministry has donated 5,000 home self-test kits to the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association for tourism workers, and 5,000 home self-test kits to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. It says plans are also afoot to certify additional laboratories to offer testing for COVID-19.
However, the ministry maintains that Jamaicans should remain vigilant in their practise of the infection and prevention protocols, particularly, hand washing and sanitising, mask-wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds.