Yesterday, the country was shaken out of the pandemic comfort zone into which most citizens have settled since the lifting of most lockdown restrictions. The activities of “Patient 139,” who moved around freely with flu-like symptoms for about a week, has raised concerns about possible community spread of COVID-19.
The loud and clear message from this public health scare is that T&T is still at risk from COVID-19. All it takes is one person, infected but unaware and flouting the public regulations, to trigger local spread and put this country into a crisis it is ill-prepared to handle.
At the time when news of a suspected local case was being announced at the Ministry of Health media briefing, the global statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO)—14,731,563 confirmed cases and 611,284 deaths—highlighted the extent to which COVID-19 continues to exact a severe toll globally.
The clear and present danger posed by COVID-19 is further highlighted by the situation in the United States to our north and Brazil just south of us, where its rapid spread has led to some nightmarish real-life situations of overburdened hospitals and high death tolls. The sight of refrigerated trucks outside US hospitals to store bodies because morgues are overcrowded and mass graves dug in Brazil for the burial of hundreds should have been enough of a warning for citizens.
The Caribbean has been a relatively safe zone in the midst of the pandemic but that situation can change very quickly.
T&T has, for the most part, kept the deadly pathogen at bay but that has led to complacency. Many citizens have a very cavalier attitude toward the pandemic, ignoring the dangers inherent in not conforming to the new normal. That reality confronted our neighbours in the Bahamas earlier this week when the opening of borders there led to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
This week, four new cases have been confirmed here—two imported from Canada and Saudi Arabia and the third and fourth, a cause for great concern as they may involve local spread.
Pending investigations, the source of these two local infections are yet to be determined. However, at least one of these two cases had no travel history and had interactions at several places within the last week.
The threat of contagion never goes away, since COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. A person can be infected by breathing in the virus while in close proximity of someone with the virus, or by touching a contaminated surface and then eyes, nose or mouth.
The contact tracing currently being done in connection with the two localised patients is critical for identifying potential carriers and isolating them. However, responsible behaviour on the part of citizens is also important.
The WHO recommends that everyone performs hand hygiene frequently, follows respiratory etiquette recommendations, regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, maintain physical distances and avoid people with fever or respiratory symptoms. T&T citizens would do well to follow these protocols.