AT Saturday’s media briefing the Prime Minister announced his team’s decision to accelerate easing of lockdown prescriptions so that Phase 2 activities will now be brought forward by four days—instead of May 24 they will now occur on May 21. He also stated that the deliberative process required was akin to that now facing Australia and Singapore, two countries also at this juncture: how to ease lockdown restrictions without running the risk of a Covid-19 resurgence with possibly worse consequences.
This writer contends that the Covid-19 situations in Australia and Singapore are not comparable with the situation in Trinidad and Tobago and therefore would not explain why yet another “cautious” step was taken by the PM in reopening the economy.
As of May 16 Australia had accumulated 7,086 confirmed cases and 98 deaths. The situation there peaked between March 18 and April 7 with new cases averaging 350 per day and deaths at seven to eight. New cases have since dropped precipitously with 17 recorded on May 16. Lockout of non-residents began on March 20 and lockdown the following day.
Singapore, currently at 27,356 cases and 22 deaths saw community spread peak at 1,426 on April 20 and continue at a relatively high level. On May 15 new cases numbered 793 with only a single case native Singaporean/resident. The remaining 792 were foreign workers (from India and Bangladesh) living in dormitories—12 to 20 workers/room. “Circuit breaker” (lockdown) was introduced on April 7.
The conundrum facing the above decision-makers is that Covid-19 is now endemic in their respective countries, and whether easing of lockdown restrictions will re-create the conditions that produced the initial surge and eventually more disastrous consequences.
Each country will have to do its own retrospection and introspection to determine whether the lives saved by lockdown justify the cost to do so.
In respect to Covid-19 in T&T the following is undisputed. (i) the 116 cases uncovered so far were imported into the country, (ii) local spread has been confined to four persons, members of the same family, (iii) no cluster has surfaced; the CMO has repeatedly stated that community spread is not evident, (iv) surveillance testing, 792 tests to date, has yielded negative results, meaning a sporadic case is yet to be uncovered, (v) posthumous testing continues unabated—72 on the last count, and Covid-19 has not been implicated in the deaths of persons over the past two months, (vi) our R-0 (R-naught which describes the level of contagiousness of the bug) lies at minus level, (vii) two large influxes of persons into the country, 20,000 for Carnival 2020 and another 20,000 who travelled in time to beat the mid-March lockout date, have failed to produce the sought after “curve”, not much of anything “to flatten”, and (viii) no positive test has been recorded since April 26, over three weeks ago.
Logical conclusion from the foregoing is that not a single one of the 116 imported cases has gained a foothold in T&T. Credit lockout/lockdown efforts by the authorities, a hot and humid environment hostile to all coronaviruses, other factor(s) yet to surface or maybe God is a Trini: Covid-19 is not endemic in T&T at the present time. Its next opportunity to become endemic will arise in Phase 6 when easing the lockout is scheduled to begin. Government can continue surveillance testing but unless our borders are more porous than anyone realises, the results will continue to be negative.
The situation in T&T fortuitously is not akin to any other country and a phased easing of the current lockdown is unnecessary and only prolongs the bleeding. Talk of a flooded hospital system, funeral homes being unable to cope, inability to dig enough graves, reference to typhoid Mary and so on, display a gross misinterpretation of the eagerly sought scientific evidence and serves only to further stress an already panicked population.
Government should move with alacrity to end the lockdown but wait for hotspots to cool, especially NYC and London, before easing the lockout. Some elements of the public health measures should be retained.
Kenwyn H Nicholls