Citizens were given the distressing news yesterday that one of two fully vaccinated nationals who returned to Trinidad and Tobago since the borders were reopened and tested positive for the Delta variant of COVID-19 exhibited symptoms almost a week later.
The information is disconcerting given that under current border entry protocols, travellers are required to provide a PCR test 72 hours before travel here and on arrival, unvaccinated travellers are placed in mandatory state quarantine while fully vaccinated travellers can go to their intended local destinations. Ministry officials have indicated that the fully vaccinated travellers are asked to self-isolate for two weeks before going into public circulation but this, naturally, means they are left to their own devices on meeting this requirement.
In giving details of the two cases yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said one of them was an energy worker whose company had its own quarantine measures in place. As such, the person was already isolated, facilitating an easy Health Ministry contact tracing process for seven to eight people exposed.
However, the other case must certainly ring alarm bells for Dr Parasram and his team. That individual began exhibiting symptoms five days after arrival and visited a health centre for a COVID test. A subsequent genome sequencing test by the University of the West Indies confirmed the Delta variant.
Effectively, there are two scenarios possible here. Firstly, this patient could have contracted the strain in the period after taking a PCR test abroad and returning to T&T. Secondly, however, they could have arrived COVID-free and contracted the virus within their home environment, where three to four people were their close contacts.
The current science shows that the Delta variant is not only more transmissible but also has a shorter incubation period. Needless to say, just this one individual who slipped through the crack either could be a community superspreader, based on how active they may have been outdoors or ended up in a community where the Delta already exists.
Despite this possibility, the CMO stood by the current border entry protocols, noting that the two cases were out of some 14,222 people who had returned since borders reopened on July 17. In Dr Parasram's view, the 99.986 of the passengers who have remained COVID-free since returning is enough to retain the current border entry procedure.
Somehow, though, we feel this is one time when one case is enough to warrant some tweaking of the current system. T&T is currently trending in the right direction regarding daily cases but as the experts have indicated, those needing ICU and HDU treatment, or dying, remain at disconcerting levels.
Given what we have seen of the Delta's behaviour in other countries and with the newer MU variant now as close at St Vincent and the Grenadines, we feel it is better to err on the side of caution than to be comforted by what appears to be border entry success up to now. Who knows, the horse may have already bolted from the stable with this one case. We hope, therefore, that Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh will call an urgent meeting with his medical experts to revisit the policy, as it may mean the difference between life and death.