Principal medical officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards today pointed to the stark data from Trinidad and Tobago’s current grapple with the novel coronavirus, as the government announced its third set of restrictions since the Easter weekend.
Two hospitals, the Couva Hospital and Augustus Long Facility, were at 98% and 100% capacity respectively, while Trinidad hospitals were at 70% capacity. Twice within the last eight days, she said, the Ministry of Health’s ambulance system was overwhelmed by the requests from infected persons who needed to be hospitalised.
Her announcement came before the latest medical update, which revealed another 324 positive cases of Covid-19 and took the number of active cases to 3,480. There were five more deaths and 27 additional hospital admissions.
At present, Dr Abdool-Richards said, the country’s hospitals have a net daily occupancy increase of 15 persons—calculated by subtracting discharged patients from admissions.
The Ministry of Health will increase bed capacity within the next 24 hours, but, she explained, the problem does not have a simple fix.
“We don’t have the supporting human resources to manage these beds,” said Dr Abdool-Richards, “[such as] consumables, ventilators, tubing, management and calibration of machines…”
Dr Avery Hinds, technical director of the Epidemiology Division, confirmed that the first week of May has already produced half of the total number of infections in April. The current Covid-19 infection rate, he said, poses an imminent threat to the country.
“We can look at this like a fire,” said Dr Hinds. “The fire needs three things in order to burn. We need fuel—unfortunately the population is the fuel. We need some sort of heat, this level of the virus in the population is that heat. And the oxygen the thing that makes it burn is the contact.
“[…] If we want to stifle this, we have to reduce that contact. That is how we are going to bring one of those three elements out of that triangle of combustion.”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley attempted to accomplish that with further restrictions today, which were read out by Stuart Young, minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The latest amendments to the public health ordinance come into effect from midnight tonight and last until 23 May:
Public transport reduces from 75% to 50% capacity; permitted workplaces to close at 8pm; retail stores like Pricesmart can only sell food, medicine, and other essentials; all domestic services apart from live-in are suspended; all construction work must stop; auto-repair business permissible only for emergency services; restaurants are not allowed to have delivery services or curb-side pick-up; only urgent dental, ophthalmologist, and occupational and physical therapy will continue at hospitals.
“We are asking everyone to stay at home,” said Young. “We are asking people if you can, to work from home…”
Dr Rowley assured citizens that the twin island republic has tamed the virus before and can do it again, by following the health protocols. He did make a confession though.
“I still don’t know were I got Covid from,” said the prime minister, who tested positive on Easter Monday. “I was doing virtually everything that was required of me; and I thought I was safe. I followed the protocol…”
Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh also painted a bleak image.
“We don’t know what else to do to make the man on the street understand how serious it is,” said Deyalsingh, as he spoke about breaches of Covid-19 protocols that he witnessed on the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain. “[…] I wept… A tear came to my eye…”
The health minister said 33,600 vaccines from Covax and another 40,000 from India are expected next week, which would be enough to fully vaccinate 60,000 persons. The government also has WHO clearance to use the Sinopharm vaccine, of which the twin island republic was offered 100,000 doses by China.
But the ongoing vaccination drive must work hand-in-hand with adherence to health protocols. Deyalsingh urged persons not to congregate for Mother’s Day this weekend while Young asked the public to be sensible—even as he confirmed that exercise is allowed within groups of five or less, as well as training for national teams and Olympic athletes.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, Dr Rowley said, will again be asked to ensure enforcement of the law, as much as possible.
By and large, the requests from health care professionals have not changed much. Dr Abdool-Richards noted that Trinbagonians were generally using their masks and sanitising appropriately. However, she suggested that more attention be paid to physical distancing guidelines.
The prime minister asked the public to ‘hold the line’.
“It is not a life sentence,” said Dr Rowley. “Let us change our lives for two weeks… If we don’t get the turnaround we are looking for, I know of no other solution.
“The greater the cooperation, the shorter the period.”