The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over. It still lurks among populations across the world, can still cause severe respiratory illness and death and must still be taken very seriously.
While it is no longer a global public health emergency, as stated in an announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday, the disease is still out there and thousands of people are still dying from it every week, while millions of others continue to struggle with its debilitating, long-term effects.
That is why the WHO did not declare the end of the pandemic. In fact, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took pains to point out yesterday: “The virus is here to stay. It is still killing.”
What must be kept firmly in focus, as the world transitions to a new phase of COVID-19 prevention and control, are the hard lessons learnt during the acute stage of the pandemic, when most social and economic activity ground to a halt and travel and trade links were disrupted.
There are losses from COVID-19 which cannot be quantified up to this day—and that is in addition to the official death toll of seven million, which some experts consider to be a conservative figure.
Here in T&T, where citizens endured months of closed borders, lockdowns, a state of emergency and the cancellation of Carnival, the easing of public health restrictions was interpreted by some as a return to pre-pandemic conditions.
There is no longer any alarm over the rates of infections, hospitalisations and deaths, what remains of the parallel health system is no longer an area of public focus and there is almost no interest in getting preventative vaccinations and booster shots.
And this is where the task of T&T’s public health professionals gets more challenging, since they have to ensure that public awareness is maintained about the presence of the constantly mutating coronavirus.
The message to this population must be that a lower risk of infection is very different to no risk of infection. The latter is only possible if COVID-19 is eradicated from the world, which hasn’t happened yet.
For now, it is important to remind citizens to proceed with caution. The spectre of a disease that infected more than 750 million still lurks in the shadows.
More than three years after the declaration by the WHO on March 11, 2020, of the outbreak of a global pandemic, there is still a great deal to be discovered about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and exactly how it spread to humans in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
The day after that WHO announcement, T&T had its first recorded case of COVID-19, a 52-year-old man who returned from Switzerland. Since then, this country has recorded 191,496 confirmed cases and 4,390 deaths, including the three fatalities for the period April 19 to May 2 in the latest Ministry of Health update.
Those figures in our population of 1.4 million tell of the devastating effect COVID-19 has had on families and communities here and how, at times, the public health system was driven to the verge of collapse.
That wasn’t all that long ago. With the latest WHO announcement, the world turns another corner away from the days of isolation and restriction. However, this is just another step on the journey of living with COVID-19.