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Are fishermen non-essential? MoH touches on fish, homes for the aged and public masks

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh today called on members of the public to take their elderly loved ones out of homes and also suggested that new guidelines are coming for caregivers, as part of the fight against the novel coronavirus Covid-19.

At the time of the press conference, Trinidad and Tobago had 101 positive cases after 728 tests, with six deaths and one discharge.

Photo: A caregiver interacts with a patient.

Deyalsingh said the Ministry of Health will publish guidelines next week, to be adhered to by the country’s 169 registered homes—and hopefully the unregistered ones as well—which care for between 3,000 to 6,000 elderly people.

He used this morning’s virtual press conference to hint at some of the expected recommendations, including an end to visiting hours and new measures at the homes, such as social distancing of patients, the use of masks and disposable gloves, daily journals of the health of long-stay patients and the careful monitoring of employees for signs of the virus.

“As of today, we are advising that all these homes stop visiting by friends [and] relatives; [so] you should not allow anyone to come into your homes,” said Deyalsingh. “[…] We are asking that the caregivers in these homes wear masks and gloves—not to protect themselves necessarily but to protect those that they are taking care of—and use disposable gloves and dispose them as you move from person to person, so you do not transfer the virus.

“[…] We are asking friends and relatives, wherever possible, to take these people out of that environment and put them into your own home, to lessen the chance of spread.”

Deyalsingh was, arguably, less clear when asked by a journalist, on behalf of fishermen, whether the ban on the use of beaches applied to their trade.

“The general rule is, as the prime minister has said and the national security minister has said and the attorney general, let us not rely on the force of law and the police,” said Deyalsingh. “We are asking everyone as a community not to go out in the public domain—that is the general rule. It is difficult or impossible to legislate for every single activity or every single possibility.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago fishermen at work.
(via Newsday)

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic where 61,000 people have died; every measure that the government has put in place is a combination of legislation via regulations. But, most importantly, we are using moral suasion.

“So everyone, fishermen [and] everyone, if you don’t have to be in the public, please for your own good: stay home. We understand and empathise that some are going to be financially affected. That is unfortunate. But we are trying to save lives at this point in time.”

Deyalsingh appeared to suggest that fishermen and the fruits of their labour are not an essential service. How can fast food and roadside fruit stalls be protected by the law but not fish?

In fact, the Public Health (Novel Coronavirus 2019) Regulations mentions the fishing industry on three occasions in subsection 3(ag)(ii)(E) ‘fishery labour needed to produce our food supply domestically’; (G) ‘Fishermen’ and (P) ‘workers engaged in the supply of… fish.’

Deyalsingh signed the regulations into law on 2 April 2020. Unless he meant for the fishermen to fish without access to the sea, he appeared to have forgotten their inclusion in the ordinance.

Wired868 asked three questions at the press conference:

  1. How many local persons (as opposed to samples, since multiple tests can be done on a single patient) have been tested for Covid-19?
  2. What is the reason for the delay in the validation of the Health Ministry’s Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, which would allow the government to significantly ramp up testing of the population?
  3. And exactly when did the sixth deceased patient—who allegedly got to the Couva Hospital too late to be saved—first contact the Health Ministry asking to be tested for Covid-19?
Photo: A doctor operates a Covid-19 test kit.

On the first question, chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram suggested the vast majority of the 728 samples tested by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) were done on different persons.

“We test a patient when they are first positive and then when they are ready for discharge,” said Parasram. “So far, there has not been a large number of people who met that criteria… So the repeat testing that you are alluding to, probably in the region of 10 to 15.”

However, after 40 from the 68 Costa Favolosa travellers quarantined in Balandra tested positive. The remaining 28 patients were ‘swabbed’ a second time, two weeks later, with another six cases confirmed. So, in Balandra alone, 28 persons got repeat tests.

Protocol also suggests that the sole person discharged would have been tested three times while there might be other persons in quarantine who qualified for a second go at the swab.

When pressed for a precise figure, Parasram admitted that he did not have the necessary data with him but promised to bring it to the next press conference.

On the second question, Parasram said ‘the process of validating the [PCR] kits is ongoing’ but did not give details on the reason behind the delay.

Photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh (left) and CMO Dr Roshan Parasram.

And on the third question, which might hint to either the responsiveness of the Health Ministry to genuine requests for testing or a failure by members of the public to react promptly to symptoms, Parasram and Deyalsingh said nothing at all.

“That falls under patient confidentiality,” said Parasram.

Parasram did have news for the public on the oft-repeated question of masks though.

“Those in the general population can use masks but they should use cloth-like or homemade masks in every setting,” said the CMO, “especially when you go in to the supermarkets, markets, pharmacies, banks or high risk areas where you have congregations. Of course [also] if you are travelling in public transport.

“Surgical masks and N-95 masks are to be left for the medical practitioners.”

Deyalsingh also said work permits for Cuban nurses were approved and the Ministry of Health is working with Caribbean Airlines to have them brought to Trinidad by, ‘hopefully’, the middle of next week.

The Health Minister returned to his now commonplace war analogies, as he urged the population to stay at home.

Photo: A Thai monk displays a Covid-19 mask made from recycled plastic.

“Trinidad and Tobago is one of over 2,000 territories that is in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Deyalsingh. “[…] We are at war; and in a war there has to be unity of purpose, unity of command. The honourable prime minister has taken charge […] but we have to be in lockstep with the prime minister.

“[…] The only way to beat this colourless, odourless, invasive enemy is to: stay home.”

Editor’s Note: The excerpt from the Public Health (Novel Coronavirus 2019) Regulations applicable to fishermen was added at 7.25pm on 4 April 2020.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com 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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