Dr Rowley: ‘We have reached a critical crossroad…’ (Full address)

“[…] The current seven-day rolling average of positive cases, as of 22 November 2021, is 518 cases per day… This represents the longest consistent period of increasing rolling average manifested since the plateau of cases began in July. 

“[…] As the demand on health care resources increases, we may have no choice but to redirect our efforts from providing the highest level of care to a few, to providing the greatest good for the greatest number of persons…”

The following is the full address from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on 25 November 2021, regarding the Government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic:

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gives an address to the nation on Thursday 25 November 2021.

Fellow citizens, good night. I address you tonight on the subject of our national struggle as we face another critical juncture in the national Covid-19 response. 

Today we mourn the loss of over two thousand of our citizens who succumbed to a virus over the last 18 months. The trauma has been protracted and relentless as we confirm almost 700 new infections each day and provide care for over 500 hundred Covid patients in our almost filled hospitals.

There can be no doubt that we have proven to be resilient in the face of this unprecedented challenge. Collectively the public sector, private sector, civil society and individuals have rallied together to confront a formidable common enemy: the Covid-19 virus.

Painful and distressing as this situation is, now is not the time to concede defeat in any way. Now is not the time to get tired, careless or carefree. Hope is good and luck is welcome but they are no substitute for being sensible or reasonable.

Now more than ever we must not lower our guard but instead commit to fight this scourge with everything at our disposal, not the least of which are the vaccines we have and the personal responsibility we must adopt.

Photo: A doctor administers the Covid-vaccine in Trinidad.
(via MoH)

Even as I was preparing this presentation last night I received the depressing news that a new variant has appeared in Botswana which some scientists are already saying ‘could be worse than nearly anything else about’ and it ‘may even become vaccine resistant’.

The virus has pushed back and today we must stand and hold the line. Our frontline soldiers buckle under the strain of 19 months of constant battle, our resources are being steadily depleted as our people continue to fall ill, require increased hospitalisation and lose their lives to the unrelenting onslaught of the virus.

The good news is that we have a cadre of skilled and dedicated healthcare givers and powerful ammunition that we can use to fight back: our public health measures and the Covid-19 vaccine. 

While it is easy to forget all that we have already gone through, it is important to be reminded of the challenges we have already overcome so that we can truly understand our innate potential to survive and eventually conquer Covid-19. 

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) through their Country Office in the People’s Republic of China, learned of a cluster of cases of viral pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan. This virus quickly captured the attention of the international community and several health authorities from around the world contacted WHO seeking additional information.

Photo: The novel coronavirus.

The unknown virus spread exponentially throughout parts of China and Europe, outstripping them of the ability to adequately provide hospital care.  

At the time, little was known about this infectious pathogen but what was known was that it was causing a respiratory illness spreading from person to person via respiratory droplet and aerosol infection. The virus was observed to have an incubation period of 14 days. This new virus was later identified as belonging to the coronavirus family alongside the common flu.

On 29 January 2020, we in Trinidad and Tobago began the thermal screening of passengers at the nation’s airports and heightened vigilance at sea ports, inclusive of commercial and cruise vessels. The next day the Cabinet took the decision to impose travel restrictions on all travellers to and from this country.

On 30 January 2020, WHO declared the Novel Coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest level of alarm. The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, via the Ministry of Health, had already begun sensitising the country about this novel coronavirus earlier that month.

Internationally, eyes were affixed on the events rapidly unfolding in China and nations began to assiduously prepare for the possibility of global spread.

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

On 31 January 2020, Trinidad and Tobago proclaimed Covid-19 as a dangerous infectious disease under the Public Health Ordinance, (Chap 12, No 4.0), in order to trigger the special provisions under the Ordinance that are pertinent to the management of infectious diseases.

On 11 February 2020, this novel coronavirus was officially named ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)’ and the disease which it caused was named ‘Covid-19’—in an effort to avoid inaccuracies and stigma. 

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic.  At the time, the virus had been detected in 114 countries, over 4,000 persons had already lost their lives and there had been more than 118,000 confirmed cases reported globally.  It was the first pandemic ever caused by a coronavirus.

In March of 2020, we continued to make quick and decisive steps to protect our borders and reduce the interaction among people.

We strengthened our border detection capabilities via Port Health Units at the Piarco International Airport, ANR Robinson International Airport and the various seaports throughout the islands. We simultaneously focused on strengthening our hospital capacities to test, isolate, treat and trace.

Photo: Thousands of Trinidad and Tobago citizens were stranded abroad due to Covid-19 restrictions.

One day after WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago recorded our first case on 12 March 2020—it was an imported case. Prior to that, Trinidad and Tobago had boldly taken the step on 30 January 2020, to disallow entry of persons who had been to China within the last fourteen days. 

At the time, we were the third country in the world to implement this bold measure and it afforded us the needed time to build our health care capacity into what is now known as the ‘parallel healthcare system’.

As of Monday of this week, 22 November 2021, there have been over 256 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 5.1 million deaths reported to the WHO. 

  • Over 7.4 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide
  • As of 19 November 2021, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has reported that in 56 countries in the Americas over 95 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 2.3 million deaths have occurred in our region.
  • All four Variants of Concern (Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta) have been reported in the region
  • As of 22 November 2021, CARPHA has indicated that the Caribbean region has reported over 2.1 million confirmed cases and over 27,000 deaths. For us, this is the scale and scope of the pandemic.
Photo: Doctors swab a patient as part of the test for Covid-19.

WHO declared the Covid-19 to be a pandemic on 12 March 2020. On 25 March 2020 Trinidad and Tobago recorded our first Covid-19 related death. The patient was a 70-year-old male with pre-existing conditions.

Trinidad and Tobago has, to date, experienced the Covid-19 pandemic in three phases:

Phase one spanned the period March to April 2020 – This wave was categorised as being sporadic (imported). 

  • All cases were imported with limited instances of transmission within families; and
  • Due to a robust national response, including clinical legislative, policy-based and public health measures, we were able to halt the spread of the virus in 45 days, with no new cases reported for a further 85 days, thereafter.

The second wave, which initiated in July 2020, was characterised as community spread. 

  • On 20 July, the first locally acquired case of Covid-19 was detected (i.e. a case with no known travel history or contact with travellers). This discovery marked the beginning of a new phase of the Covid-19 battle and the start of the transition from sporadic cases, to cluster spread, to community transmission.
  • A policy change for admission criteria was implemented on 26 August 2020 dictating the home-isolation of clinically-well positive patients, and a low threshold for admission of cases to institutional care.
  • This policy change allowed for the optimisation of the use of the parallel health care facilities to provide care for patients needing hospitalisation and medical management, in response to the rapidly growing numbers of active cases. 
  • Active cases reached a peak of 2,426 cases on 16 September 2020 and began to decline slowly, even as new cases continued to be diagnosed, at a decreasing rate. 
Image: A satirical take on religion and the Covid-19 vaccine.

After the first peak (March to June 2021) the second peak, coincided with the arrival of the Delta Variant in Trinidad and Tobago. 

On 11 August 2021, Trinidad and Tobago confirmed its first two cases of Covid-19 Delta variant. Both cases presented in unvaccinated repatriated nationals. By late September, the clinical team confirmed that the Delta Covid-19 variant of concern was in the early stages of community spread.

At that time, there were 17 confirmed known cases of the variant in Trinidad—some of which had no recent travel history. To date we have had over 200 confirmed Delta cases in Trinidad and Tobago. 

As of 22 November 2021, Trinidad and Tobago has reported a total of 66,293 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19; 55,621 of which have recovered. However, lamentably, we have lost 2,000 of our peers, family members, neighbours, co-workers and other loved ones to this unrelenting virus.

The current seven-day rolling average of positive cases, as of 22 November 2021, is 518 cases per day. The seven-day rolling average has continued to demonstrate an increase from the beginning of October, to the current date. This represents the longest consistent period of increasing rolling average manifested since the plateau of cases began in July. 

Image: The novel coronavirus.

The seven-day rolling average of deaths (16 to 22 November) stands at 15, with a minimum of six and a maximum of 28 deaths, during that seven-day period. 

This trend is indicative of an established upsurge in the transmission of Covid-19 in the population, with seven consecutive weeks of upward-trending totals. 

As we put systems in place to ensure that persons received adequate treatment for the virus, while keeping our current healthcare system afloat, we also continue robust testing of our population.

At first, we relied upon the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to provide Covid-19 testing services. The first Covid-19 test in Trinidad and Tobago was conducted by CARPHA on 7 February 2020. 

Since then, we have developed and expanded our own national Covid-19 testing capacity. We have established the following testing sites locally:

  • Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA)
  • Trinidad Public Health Laboratory
  • Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • UWI Molecular Laboratory, School of Veterinary Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences
  • Port-of-Spain General Hospital
  • Medical Laboratory at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex
  • Sangre Grande Hospital Laboratory
  • Scarborough General Hospital Laboratory
  • San Fernando General Hospital Laboratory.
Photo: A Covid-19 swab test in Jakarta.
(via Reuters)

Trinidad and Tobago’s Covid-19 testing capacity has therefore increased from 50 tests per day to over 1,200 daily.  

CARPHA has also provided us with quality control assistance in approving a number of private laboratories for testing for Covid 19. Through our collaboration with CARPHA, UWI, and TPHL we are also able to conduct genomic sequencing of Covid-19 samples to detect variants of concern and variants of interest.

The creation of the parallel system greatly reduced the impact on the traditional health care system, allowing non Covid-19 related services to continue with minimal disruption. It helped to provide the public healthcare system with the responsiveness and resilience needed to maintain its capacity to manage the second wave of Covid-19 cases—even in the face of community transmission.

The parallel healthcare system continued to be resilient in the face of the dynamic realities of Covid-19. Resources were increased and dedicated public health workers are responding to the various surges and lulls in Covid-19 cases.

During our first wave, our parallel health care system consisted of seven health care facilities (two hospitals and five step-down facilities). State quarantine of all positive cases was also implemented to minimise local transmission risk, schools were closed, public stay-at-home orders were issued and guidelines were given to key sectors in society. At that time, no specific drug was approved by the WHO to treat or prevent Covid-19.  

Photo: Nurses at the Couva Hospital and Multi-Training Facility.
(via NCRHA)

The second wave was characterised as community transmission and thus, we increased the parallel health care system to six hospitals and seven step-down facilities.

We have continued to expand and enhance the capacity of the parallel health care system. Additionally, in May 2021, we were grateful to receive from the Government of the United States two field hospitals for use, as required, to increase the availability of beds for the parallel health care system. 

The parallel healthcare system now has 16 health care facilities (nine hospitals and seven step-down facilities). 

As of 22 November 2021, our parallel hospital bed capacity now stands at a total of 999 beds—898 in Trinidad and 101 in Tobago.  

On 6 July 2021, the WHO approved the use of Systemic Corticosteroid Therapy and Interleukin-6 receptor blockers as a treatment for Covid-19 infections. Shortly thereafter, Trinidad and Tobago began to apply this treatment to Covid-19 patients. 

Photo: Can’t be too careful…
A statute of iconic chutney singer Sundar Popo in Debe is given the protection of a face mask during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Against the backdrop of the current epidemiological climate as at 22 November, 2021: 

  • hospitalisations have been on the rise, with 539 persons as of 22 November 2021, (an increase of 105%, from the low of 263 persons on 15 October). Total hospital occupancy was at 65%; while ICU occupancy stood at 86% (61 of 70 ICU beds filled in Trinidad and five of seven beds filled in Tobago). 
  • an additional 64 individuals—17 of them requiring intensive care management—are currently awaiting transfer from Emergency Departments in the traditional healthcare system, to the parallel healthcare system. Of note 84% (54/64) of the individuals awaiting transfer are not vaccinated (including 100% of the 17 awaiting ICU).

When we first restricted gatherings in public spaces, on 16 March 2020, we allowed a maximum of 25 people. We then reduced that number to 10 persons and then to five persons as we sought to fight the unseen enemy: Covid-19.

From 30 March 2020, we implemented stay-at-home orders for all but essential workers.

Photo: Taxi?
A woman waits for a ride home in San Fernando on 23 April 2019 during the period of Covid-19 restrictions.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

On 9 May 2020 I made the announcement that we would begin the process of re-opening the economy. Policies and guidelines for re-opening were developed in alignment with the re-opening schedule and sector by sector we began to ease measures and slowly increase economic activity.

We did this carefully so as to monitor the impact of the increased commingling of persons, which is a natural outcome of increased business activity on the country’s epidemiological state as it related to Covid-19.

There were instances where we had to roll back measures for some sectors where there was non-compliance or where there was a significant increase in Covid-19 cases.

In July 2020, during our second wave, we again implemented some adjusted public health restrictions to curb the spread of the disease. For example, we reduced the number of persons allowed to gather publicly and reduced the number of public servants who would work in office at any one time.

On 15 May 2021 the State of Emergency with a curfew was enforced to restrict the movement and prolonged mixing of citizens in order to curb the spread of Covid-19. During this time, we continued to monitor the rate of spread and impact of Covid-19 and ensure that safe and effective WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccines were easily accessible to the population.

Photo: The Idea Factory in Penal is closed for the Covid-19 lockdown of April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

On Monday 11 October 2021, we activated the ‘TT Safe Zones Initiative’ which allows for fully vaccinated members of the public to access areas of leisure activity such as cinemas, bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres and casinos.  

On Wednesday 17 November 2021 the State of Emergency was discontinued but public health regulations were still enforced. While the number of COVID-19 cases was still high and we continued the national drive for increased levels of vaccination, it should be noted that Trinidad Tobago had a significantly higher number of vaccinated persons at that time when compared to the low levels of vaccination  in May 2021.

Vaccination, in collaboration with public health measures, continues to be a powerful combination in the fight against Covid-19 as we seek to preserve lives and livelihoods. This remains a key focus of the Government as we manage the continuing Covid-19 threat.

I want to reemphasise at this juncture that we intend to keep on fighting this virus whilst fighting to preserve our key economic activities which we need to maintain livelihoods. We will try to prevent devastating restrictions and will resort to such measures only as a last resort when all else become impotent. 

Diligent and pre-emptive steps have been taken to ensure that WHO approved vaccines are available for the population.

Photo: El Dorado West Secondary student Ashlee Ramoutar (right) receives her Covid-19 vaccine from pharmacist Elisha Sankar.
(Copyright Lou-Ann Sankar)
  • The country has since received a total of 1,947,190 vaccines of which 1,284,884 have been administered as of 22 November 2021.
  • A range of vaccines are now easily accessible for all eligible members of the population aged 12 and older.

Today 59.5% of persons aged 12 to 18 have been vaccinated.

As of 22 November 2021, 635,225 persons have been fully vaccinated (45.4%) and 637,934 persons have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccination regimen.

  • Currently, Covid-19 vaccines are widely available at:
    • Drive-thru Locations
    • Mass Vaccination Locations
    • Health Centres nationwide
    • Community Vaccination Outreach Activities
    • Home Visits (for shut-in persons only)
  • Vaccines can be had from sentinel physicians, at supermarkets and key town centres including; the triangle in Princes Town, the dial in Arima, the Croisee in San Juan and community centres and outreach programs in villages.  
Image: The global fight against Covid-19.

Early in 2020, we got only a glimmer of what Covid-19 could become. Despite the fact that the virus was far from our shores, By March 2020 and continuing, there was mobilisation to fully engage the population through a robust public communication campaign, using all available media including:    

  • The establishment of the Covid-19 hotline 800-WELL
  • Engagement of religious heads, medical personnel, entertainment personalities and community representatives to encourage vaccine acceptance. 

A high vaccination level is central and essential to our ability to combat Covid-19. Fellow citizens, I want to emphasise to you that the worldwide evidence shows that:

  • Vaccines continue to reduce a person’s risk of contracting the virus that causes Covid-19, including the Delta variant.
  • Vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing hospitalisation and death.
  • Fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections from this variant appear to be infectious for a shorter period.
Image: A satirical view on Covid-19 and the economy.
(Copyright Chappatte.com)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has taken every available measure to ensure that we safeguard our population from the virus. Significant expenditure was incurred to implement all the listed policies.

As at September 2021, we spent $509.7 million TTD on the national Covid-19 response. Disappointingly, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to present serious challenges that most countries all over the world are still struggling with even with the assistance of widespread vaccination.

I know there are those amongst us who would have you believe that our inability to shake off this demon is as a result of our singular incompetence. If that were so then it is reasonable to assume that others elsewhere would have gotten rid of it and its destructive effects a long time ago.

On the contrary, we are there with the rest of the world fighting to survive, not knowing when this scourge will end. Current scientific predictions are that at least 700,000 persons could die from Covid-19 in the coming months.

Throughout the pandemic New Zealand has been regarded as one of the countries that was fighting the virus most successfully. They are 83% vaccinated, hoping for 90%, but a current wave has resulted in lockdown and the operations of bars, restaurants, cinemas, etc as safe zones. A vaccine passport for participation in very normal activities is to come into being on 2 December.

Photo: An elderly man shows off his Covid-19 health card.

New Zealand, a country of 5 million people, is currently reporting new infections at 200 cases per day with 40 deaths so far. Even though they are a remote location, compare that with Trinidad and Tobago with 2000 deaths from among 1.4 million people, reporting over 600 new infections per day. 

New Zealand will require teachers and workers in the health and disability sectors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Just yesterday, New Zealand announced that it will keep its borders closed to most international travellers for a further five months. Fully vaccinated international travellers will be allowed to enter the country from 30 April.

In late June, Australia made vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels. The state of Western Australia will require all employees working in mining, oil and gas exploration to have their first dose by 1 December 2021 and to be fully vaccinated by 1 January 2022.

In the USA, Covid 19 is surging in 30 states. President Joe Biden, on 10 September, ordered all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated. A mandate that private-sector workers be vaccinated or tested weekly will be enforced in the United States from 4 January 2022.

Photo: A deceased patient is wheeled away by medical staff in New York.
(Copyright ABC News)

The US Government will also require employers with 100 or more employees to get their employees vaccinated by 4 January and require unvaccinated employees to produce proof of negative test results weekly.

Canada, in October, said it would place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave and require Covid-19 shots for air, train and ship passengers. It will also require all of its 338 lawmakers to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 when they return to work on 22 November.

Any core federal public servants, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are unwilling to disclose their vaccination status or to be fully vaccinated will be placed on administrative leave without pay from 15 November.

Barbados which reports a 50% vaccination level is running a 9pm-5.00am curfew.

Antigua is 57% vaccinated where ages 12-18, who are unvaccinated, cannot attend school. Unvaccinated Government employees must remain away from work without pay. There is a State of Emergency that runs until 22 December.

Image: Celebrating the New Year in the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Jamaica, new measures came into effect from Thursday 18 November 2021 to Thursday 9 December 2021.

There will be a nightly curfew 9pm to 5am (ending 10 December 2021). 

*Public gathering limit 10 people

*Places of worship and weddings, 100 people.

*Funerals and burials 20 people

*Annual General Meetings 100 people

In neighbouring Guadeloupe, there exists ‘an explosive situation’ on the heels of a week of violent protests over vaccine mandates which exclude the unvaccinated from many normal activities.

France required all healthcare and care-home workers, home aids and urgent care technicians to have had at least their first shot by 15 September; around 3,000 workers were suspended for failing to comply. France will require those aged 65 and above to present proof of a booster shot from mid-December for health passes that give access to restaurants, trains and planes to remain valid.

Photo: A Covid-19 patient is evacuated from the Mulhouse civil hospital, France on 23 March 2020.
(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Switzerland requires people entering bars, restaurants and fitness centres to show a Covid-status certificate providing proof of vaccination, recovery from infection or a negative test result.

Italy made Covid-19 health passes mandatory for all workers in October. Workers unable to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection would be suspended without pay and face a fine if they try to keep working. It was also decreed that health workers, including pharmacists, who are not inoculated could face suspension without pay for the rest of the year.

Austria placed millions of people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in lockdown as of 15 November. It had already banned the unvaccinated from places including restaurants, hotels, theatres and ski lifts.

Austria will also make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory from 1 February, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said, though it is not clear yet but there will be penalties put in place for people still refusing the jab after this point. 

Latvia, on 12 November, banned lawmakers who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine from voting and docked their pay. On 4 November it allowed businesses to fire workers who refuse to either get a vaccine or transfer to remote work.

Image: A satirical take on anti-vaxxers.

Singapore, meanwhile, has opted for a financial incentive to get people vaccinated, announcing that from 8 December, it will no longer pay the Covid-19 medical bills for people ‘unvaccinated by choice’.

I mention these situations and decisions, so that if it ever gets to the point where we have to adopt any of these additional measures, it will not be because we are incompetent, arrogant, dictatorial or anti-democratic. It would simply mean that our situation demands it and we do live on planet earth where Covid-19 is attempting to reign predominate. 

At no point do we intend to concede that this fight with this virus is beyond us and is therefore un-winnable. We will fight it and keep adjusting as required even as the virus keeps mutating. The world has always been a dangerous place for ‘Homo sapiens’, the human species, but we did not become the dominant species by caving in to challenges. We always succeeded by out-thinking the challengers whether they invaded our spaces or our bodies.

In response to Covid-19, we have maintained our responsiveness and resilience in order to leverage our relationships with other countries and with regional and international organisations (e.g. World Health Organization/ Pan American Health Organisation (WHO/PAHO), Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to access critically needed supplies and human resources.

Photo: NCRHA health care workers send a message to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via NCRHA)

The public compliance with public health measures continues to be an area of greatest concern and is one of the areas over which the public health care system has limited influence, as it draws on one’s sense of personal responsibility.

Fellow citizens, I began this address by indicating that we have reached a critical crossroad in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic in Trinidad and Tobago. Based on the increasing number of Covid-19 cases over the past weeks, and with no decrease in sight, the number of deaths has continued to increase with dozens of persons losing their lives on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, it seems that we have been desensitised and the population is no longer stirred to wise action by this alarming trend. There is little change in public behaviour and attitude as well as a drastic reduction in the rate of vaccination, even in the face of increasing Covid-19 deaths.

There is also a lot of information that many persons hide their condition, refuse to be tested or isolate when they know that they are sick if only to be allowed to circulate as normal. This is exactly the environment in which the virus will thrive and show up in our intractable daily numbers and our overflowing hospital wards.

Image: A satirical take on anti-vaxxers…

I tonight appeal to families to support one another and help out so that infected members can isolate to reduce the chances of the virus spreading among family members and the general public. Quarantine works, vaccines work, mask wearing and sanitising work. Adopt them to save a life, even your own.

We have done all that we can to ensure that vaccines are readily available and accessible at many sites in communities throughout the country.  We have brought the vaccines to you, where you are. Yet, we have observed only an incremental change in the vaccination rate of about 0.1-0.2% of the general population on a daily basis.

Get vaccinated. Encourage others to get vaccinated. While it may not prevent you from getting infected it would almost certainly keep you out of the hospital wards.

Even as we continue to expand our public health care capacity, we will soon reach the limit of our ability to provide care for those who are ill if we do not make drastic changes now.

If current trends continue, the parallel health care system will be overwhelmed in a matter of days. As such, this will manifest in our inability to provide care, not only to our Covid-19 patients, but to our other patients accessing general medical care and emergency care.

Image: The war on Covid-19.

Our healthcare system is finite and we will be forced, once again to pull resources from non Covid-19 sites into the parallel health care system. The elasticity and resilience of this system has seemingly given the population a false sense of complacency. I caution you today that, while we are doing all that we can to prevent this, our health care system is under imminent threat.

We have already signalled to the population that we are escalating the emergency response levels in the public healthcare system and have alerted supporting agencies of the potential need for reinforcements.

We would do well to ponder on what the next phase of the Covid-19 response might look like if we continue on this trajectory.

As with any emergency response, as the demand on health care resources increases, we may have no choice but to redirect our efforts from providing the highest level of care to a few, to providing the greatest good for the greatest number of persons. This is the reality that we face.

We will continue to keep our economy open. There have been a number of demands for further opening up of the few areas which are still under restrictions. Much as I would like to open up beaches and rivers, as I wanted to do a few weeks ago, the current situation militates against that. 

Photo: Finders keepers!
A mongrel examines sargassum seaweed on a beach in Manzanilla during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/Wired868)

I did say earlier that I am hoping that we could open beaches for Christmas. I’m still on that. I will give the numbers a couple of weeks to see where they are taking us and if there is no further significant deterioration we could start with early morning beach openings from say 5.00am to 12.00 noon. We should be able to have therapeutic dips at dawn without the parties at afternoon and sunset.

Very soon the Christmas season and its festivities will be upon us. We will want to have a good Christmas but we must be particularly careful to not let that Christmas be the event that pushed us over the edge.

I know you will want your family with you. Make plans to have your family as a ‘safe zone’. Aim to celebrate in safe zones. What I’m saying is ‘get your family protected’ by vaccination. Protect your elderly and co-morbid members from you. Try and avoid a funeral for Christmas. Act now! Get vaccinated and get them vaccinated, now.

If you are one of those persons who qualify for an additional shot to strengthen your immunity, the vaccine is available for that and the program is underway so go and get your protection.

We have received good advice, after extensive consultation, about Carnival. Carnival 2022 will not see street parades unvaccinated gatherings and wild public partying but there is room for ‘safe zone’ venue specific events—where some elements of the festival can be sampled as a Carnival microcosmic mosaic with a difference.

Photo: Carnival 2021 was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was only the second time Carnival was cancelled, and the first disruption since the Second World War.
However, Amanda McIntyre, sporting a black Baby Doll costume, joined a group of people who marched around the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Copyright Lisa Fernandez)

Fellow citizens, this is 2021, the second year of a pandemic. We have come a long way together. Let’s finish the journey by being realistic and responsible. Let’s not try and make it alone. Christmas is a season of hope and new life. Let’s do all that we can do to be there when we beat this virus sometime in the New Year. 

I thank you for your attention and may God continue to bless us all.

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