Everything not criss - But Tufton stands tall during tough times

April 03, 2020
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness.
Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness.
Dr Christopher Tufton
Dr Christopher Tufton
Allaeine Cooke sanitises a Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus prior to passengers boarding at North Parademin downtown Kingston.
Allaeine Cooke sanitises a Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus prior to passengers boarding at North Parademin downtown Kingston.
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It's common to see the slogan 'Everything Chris' printed on T-shirts worn by supporters of Dr Christopher Tufton when he is on the political hustings. Aside from the fact that politics has taken a back seat to the COVID-19 crisis, nobody needs eyeglasses to recognise that everything is not 'criss'. These are tough times!

Schools and many businesses have closed, unemployment is on the rise, nightly curfews have created ghost towns and hospitals are preparing for a spike in coronavirus cases. This is the reality of COVID-19 - the greatest global public-health threat since the Spanish flu of 1918.

Tufton, the country's health minister, admits that he has hardly got much sleep as he leads Jamaica's policy response to the highly contagious virus.

"To be totally honest, sleep is limited at this time because of just the sheer need to be alert about what is a very dynamic and constantly unfolding set of events, but when I do get the chance, I do get some rest,"the minister said.

The World Health Organisation said that COVID-19 infections are nearing the one million mark. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he is "deeply concerned" about the "rapid escalation and global spread" of the virus. In Jamaica, 47 persons had tested positive as of Thursday, three of whom have died. The Health Ministry's projections, in a worst-case scenario, are that if COVID-19 cases double every two days, Jamaica could have some 589,824 cases by April 26. However, if social distancing and other preventative mechanisms are employed, the country could have 432 cases by April 26, providing the numbers double every eight days, which would be on the current trajectory. A doubling of the numbers every 10 days could see Jamaica with a manageable 259 cases by April 26.

Very emotional

Tufton said it is "a very challenging time" to be health minister, adding that the nature of the novel coronavirus "has many variables outside of what you can control, which makes it particularly difficult".

And how does he deal with it mentally?

"It is really trying to find even small moments in a day to step back and think through the process," the minister said.

"It can be very emotional, particularly when the stress is applied, and it involves sickness and people's lives, and you see others around you whose coping mechanisms can be challenged. But you do draw on the strength of others who are in the field."

Outside of that, Tufton said he tries to step back and reflect even for five minutes, taking a deep breath before plunging into the next challenge.

The St Catherine West Central member of parliament said, however, that he would not swap his job for another Cabinet post, even if the choice was his.

"I think we are placed at particular positions in life for a particular reason, and I think I'm here for a reason, and I hope it will bring or provide the leadership that is necessary to give the support and to overcome the challenge," the minister said.

He, however, stated emphatically that there was no praise too great for the army of healthcare personnel on the front line of the war with COVID-19. He said, too, that the battle involves all Jamaicans.

"There is an important theme of personal responsibility. COVID-19 is about an infectious disease that spreads from person to person based on our behaviour. That is why social distancing is important," Tufton told THE WEEKEND STAR.

"That is why the restrictions that have been placed are important and, together, if we exercise personal responsibility in the first instance, we will be much better off collectively in overcoming this public-health emergency."

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