The recent uptick in new COVID-19 infections in this country coincides with the detection of the latest Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, within our population.
Of greatest concern is that this upward movement in infections, hospitalisations and deaths is a strong indicator of XBB.1.5’s distinctive characteristics, particularly that it is more contagious than other variants, and could potentially drive a new wave of infections.
While caution is called for, there is no need for panic over the latest Ministry of Health data. However, the fact that the numbers are going in the wrong direction calls for increased vigilance and more responsible behaviour.
The latest numbers are a reminder that no one can live as though COVID-19 no longer exists.
This week, following the deaths of eight elderly patients with multiple comorbidities, the seven-day rolling average of new deaths stood at one and 406 people had tested positive for the virus. The 47 patients currently hospitalised with COVID-19 include 17 at the Couva Hospital and Multi Training Facility, with three in the intensive care unit and one in the high dependency unit. However, step-down/transition facilities are currently empty.
These figures need to be reinforced to safeguard against purveyors of misinformation who are relentless in their efforts to perpetrate anti-vaccine views and skew the facts about COVID’s presence in T&T.
As the country prepares to host the “Mother of all Carnivals” and welcome thousands of visitors, including returning nationals, the statistic that should be uppermost in all our minds is 718,230—the number of fully vaccinated people in T&T. They make up approximately 510 per cent of the population, which is not adequate to the achieve the herd immunity required if we are to successfully co-exist with COVID-19.
There are still many unknowns about XBB.1.5, including whether current vaccines and therapies will be as effective against it. Medical researchers believe this Omicron sub lineage could drive a new surge but it’s still unclear whether it could send more people to hospital with severe symptoms, or cause increased fatalities.
What T&T must safeguard against is another surge in cases that could overwhelm the public health system.
So far, the Ministry of Health has not gone the route of reintroducing the restrictive public health measures that were in place at the height of COVID-19’s spread. However, ahead of the first full Carnival celebrations since 2020, the vaccination programme has been ramped up across the country.
Although a lot still needs to be discovered about XBB.1.5, vaccines remain the strongest line of defence against severe symptoms, hospitalisation and death.
T&T’s public health officials will be keeping a close watch on XBB.1.5’s global spread and monitoring the latest World Health Organization (WHO) advisories. They will decide whether additional strategies are needed to combat the latest COVID-19 variant.
However, the onus remains on citizens to apply the lessons learned during this pandemic, including frequent washing of hands, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, staying home if sick, avoiding crowded indoor areas and wearing a face mask when necessary. But the most important precaution as Carnival 2023 shifts into high gear is to get vaccinated.
Don’t play mas with XBB.1.5.