Health ministry reveals Covid-19 map data, 388 prisoners proposed for release

“Today marks an inflection point, a turning point, with how we treat with Covid-19,” said Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh at today’s press conference. “If we as a society heed the warnings of the prime minister, the minister of health, the chief medical officer, the commissioner of police, civil society; and if we stay home, our healthcare resources will not be depleted.

“However, if we behave in a manner that is contrary to all the advice that we have been giving out, I fear we can have a depletion of scarce resources … If we don’t, we will not be in a good position.”

Photo: A GIS map provided by the Ministry of Health shows the movement of the country’s positive Covid-19 cases.

At present, Trinidad and Tobago has 90 positive cases of Covid-19 from 621 samples with five deaths and one discharge.

Today, the Ministry of Health publicly unveiled its Geographic Information System (GIS) map graph, which shows the location and movement of the country’s positive cases.

“[The map] gives us a framework for gathering, analysing and managing data,” said chief medical officer, Dr Roshan Parasram. “[…] The benefits of GIS and the use of GIS for the Ministry of Health is basically providing an evidence-based platform for decision-making, so we are not making discussions in an ad-hoc manner.”

Deyalsingh suggested why the health ministry decided to share the information.

“My hope is that the map will bring a degree of sobriety into the discussion,” said Deyalsingh.

Parasram pointed out that, unseen on the map, are hidden contacts who might have been infected by positive cases but are asymptomatic or yet to present symptoms. So even if you do not see any cases involving your community: ‘don’t be complacent’.

Photo: A geographical breakdown of T&T’s Covid-19 cases.
The star in the north-east of the country represents the 22 patients quarantined in Balandra.
(Via Ministry of Health)

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the country has 3,959 prisoners (3,829 men and 130 women) at present and the government is suggesting ‘a very careful formula’ to release persons who fit certain conditions.

The prisoners who the government will propose for release are those facing trial or convicted for non-violent crimes not including firearms.

Examples of those ‘minor’ crimes are maintenance, traffic offences, obscene language, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana above the permitted level.

“At the remand end, we have looked at non-violent offences, and the number we have come up with is approximately 149 people,” said Al-Rawi. “On the convicted side—people serving sentences right now—we have 239 people.”

In most cases, the identified prisoners are in jail because they are too poor to make bail.

“In the proposal, we are looking at the attorney general (led by Fyard Hosein SC) bringing an action to the court,” said Al-Rawi, “where the defendants will include the registrar of the court, the commissioner of prisons, the director of public prosecutions, the commissioner of police—so that all of the records concerning certain inmates can be brought forward to the court.

Photo: A prison inmate.
(Copyright Getty)

“At the court, therefore, we will have the ability to have a judge assigned to decide bail for people who are not yet convicted …”

In other cases, the government will approach the mercy committee to have President Paula-Mae Weekes grant a pardon via section 87 of the constitution.

“We will approach the president via the mercy committee to manage their sentence in a different way,” said Al-Rawi.

Deyalsingh pointed out again that the per capita infection rate of Trinidad and Tobago so far (60 per million) is roughly half of the global average of 112 per million. He urged the public to stay at home to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Help us manage the stress that is being placed on the healthcare system to beat this virus,” said the health minister.

TV6 reporter Urvashi Tiwari pointed to our current Covid-19 death rate of 5% that, she suggested, was ‘considerably higher than the global death rate’.

Photo: The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed a Covid-19 pandemic on 12 March 2020.
(Copyright AAFP)

Was this due to the unhealthiness of the population? Or are the numbers skewed because the Ministry of Health has not tested widely enough to get an accurate count of the country’s positive cases?

Deyalsingh said that, according to advice from actuaries, the government cannot draw inferences from the current data because it is too small at present.

“[…] Five out of 90 sounds high—the global death rates varies from as much as 10% to as little 0.5%—but that is when you consider a statistically large number of cases,” said Deyalsingh. “It is worth repeating in Trinidad and Tobago when you take out the 49 cases from one source, you have 41 cases; and the actuaries have told us those numbers are too small to try to make any inferences.

“We have to wait, according to the experts, until we reach our 100th case—taking out the 49—before we can say our death rate of five is statistically significant.”

At present, if you deduct the passengers from the Costa Favolosa cruise ship, Trinidad and Tobago has three deaths from 41 cases, which is just over 7%.

Deyalsingh said the twin-island republic is an unhealthy nation and the deaths so far have followed a global pattern.

Photo: A satirical take on health.

“What we are following so far is the international norm where the deaths are occurring in the elderly population with pre-existing conditions,” he said. “And [in] Trinidad and Tobago, unfortunately as I have been saying since becoming the minister of health, we have a crisis of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease.

“The inference you are drawing may be a correct one. It may be because [in] Trinidad and Tobago we have an inherently unhealthy population.”

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