Deyalsingh: A time for concern but not panic, health minister on new cases and children’s guidelines

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Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said Trinidad and Tobago should be concerned but not panicked after identifying two confirmed cases of Covid-19 with no indication of travel history.

The second case is a minor and daughter of a Republic Bank employee. The Republic Bank West Mall branch has since been closed and customers asked to visit nearby outlets at Long Circular Mall, Glencoe, Starlite Shopping Plaza and Ellerslie Court to conduct transactions.

Photo: A test for the novel coronavirus.

“I have spoken this morning to Mr Derwin Howell, the executive director of Republic Bank,” said the health minister, at this morning’s press conference, “and video footage of the movement of the employee and the minor within Republic Bank would have shown that there was close contact with about 11 employees of Republic Bank.

“All employees have been sent home and they will be swabbed.”

The latest confirmed case comes shortly after another positive return from a family of eight, which led to the temporary closure of Pennywise outlets on Charlotte Street and Long Circular Mall that were visited by one relative.

The respective Pennywise outlets were sanitised and reopened with the blessings of Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, after the visitor to its branches returned a negative test.

To date, Trinidad and Tobago had a combined 7,778 tests from the public and private sector with 141 positives, 128 discharges and eight deaths. At present, there are five hospitalised persons—including the two latest confirmed cases who are warded at the Caura Hospital.

Photo: Infection Prevention Control (IPC) nurses in customised donning area.
(Courtesy NCRHA)

Deyalsingh and Dr Parasram said the data does not suggest significant clusters of the novel coronavirus within the population. As such, the Ministry of Health has not offered any new guidelines—but rather re-emphasised existing ones.

Wear masks, stay home if you feel unwell, and call 877-WELL or 800-WELL if you believe you have symptoms, or 811 for an ambulance. Among the symptoms that persons are asked to be mindful of is a loss of taste and smell.

The guidelines regarding students who are taking CSEC, Cape and SEA examinations  are believed to be robust enough already, while the Ministry of Health sees no reason to reach out to the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

Deyalsingh attempted to offer context to the current situation.

“This is not cause for panic but it is cause for concern,” he said. “[…] When we had closed the borders—and you remember we had 19,856 persons coming in—both the CMO and I, every day for the next three weeks… we were in a state of almost panic on a daily basis […] waiting for the hammer to drop on this country with cases. It did not happen.

Photo: Senior citizens at the airport.

“When we started to reopen the economy, the CMO and I again were in a constant state of heightened anxiety. With each phase of the re-opening, we were expecting cases. It did not happen.

“[…] The fact that today is 23 July and we have [only] two cases that we are looking at […] it tells us, as the CMO just said, we may not have that number of active clusters to possibly worry about. But we are coming before you because we are concerned.”

Deyalsingh said the CMO has visited health centres across the country over the past three months, looking for significant increases in persons presenting with flu-like symptoms and ‘to date those numbers are very low’.

So, according to the Ministry of Health, there is no reason to anticipate a spike in Covid-19 cases at the moment.

But where did these current local cases come from?

Deyalsingh said contact tracing is underway and hinted they might be linked to some viral load or lingering traces of the virus. Neither Deyalsingh or Dr Parasram were willing to speculate beyond that.

Photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh addresses journalists during a virtual media conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Deyalsingh declined the chance to share any information on the current rate of illegal migration into the country, or whether he was concerned about it. Instead, he said such questions should be posed to Minister of National Security Stuart Young.

The health minister did reiterate the CMO’s recent pronouncement on children’s activities, which were publicly resisted by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.

Dr Parasram said all children’s activities should be delayed until September. However, Griffith insisted that his Commissioner Cup’s football tournament—which caters to over 2,000 children nationwide between the ages of 12 and 18—is safe to continue due to anti-virus measures taken.

Griffith and representatives of the CMO are due to meet on the matter before the end of the week. Deyalsingh again suggested that their minds might be made up and pointed to the child of the Republic Bank employee.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) has a word with Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick after training at the Police Barracks in St James on 3 July 2020.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

“All the advice we have given about children, which has not gone down well in some quarters, I am hoping that this new case sheds new light on how we have to protect our minors,” said Deyalsingh. “Both the CMO and I have been under the gun about the measures we are taking to protect children. This case should shock us into a sense of reality that we have been saying and advising to protect children is in fact important.”

Editor’s Note: The following is a response from Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, who accused Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and CMO Dr Roshan Parasram of ‘mixed messages’. Click HERE to read.

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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