As Trinidad and Tobago recorded its highest Covid-19 death rate of 31 yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley again appealed to the population to act now and get vaccinated.
In his highly anticipated address to the nation last night, which lasted 45 minutes, the Prime Minister warned that the parallel healthcare system is under immense pressure, and the time may come when drastic decisions would have to be taken. “As with any emergency response, as the demand on healthcare 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,” he said.
There was widespread speculation that the Prime Minister would have implemented lockdown measures, given the escalating death rate and high case load. However, Rowley said the economy will continue to be kept open.
He also said if the numbers decrease in the next couple of weeks, beaches could be opened for Christmas from 5 a.m. to noon.
Rowley said further that moving forward, 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”.
In providing data, Rowley said as of November 22, 2021, this country reported a total of 66,293 confirmed positive cases of Covid; 55,621 of whom have recovered.
He said the current seven-day rolling average of positive cases, as of November 22, 2021, is 518 cases per day—the longest consistent period of increasing rolling average manifested since the plateau of cases began in July.
He said the seven-day rolling average of deaths (November 16 to 22) stands at 15, with a minimum of six and a maximum of 28 deaths, during that seven-day period.
This trend, he said, is indicative of an established upsurge in the transmission of Covid-19 in the population, with seven consecutive weeks of upward-trending totals.
The Prime Minister lamented that it seems that people have been desensitised and the population is no longer stirred to wise action by this alarming trend.
He noted 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.
The Prime Minister also said there is a lot of information that many people 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, he said, is exactly the environment in which the virus will thrive and show up in intractable daily numbers and our overflowing hospital wards.
He appealed 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.
Rowley said the Government has done all it can to ensure vaccines are readily available, yet there was only an incremental change in the vaccination rate of about 0.1 to 0.2 per cent 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,” he said.
The Prime Minister warned that the public healthcare system will buckle under the pressure, and overall care will be impacted.
“If current trends continue, the parallel healthcare 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,” he said.
Rowley said the healthcare system is finite, and the authorities will be forced, once again, to pull resources from non-Covid-19 sites into the parallel healthcare 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 healthcare system is under imminent threat,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the emergency response levels have been escalated in the public healthcare system, and supporting agencies have been alerted of the potential need for reinforcements, but “if we continue on this trajectory, efforts would have to be redirected to providing the greatest good for the greatest number of persons”.
He urged citizens to be responsible during the Christmas season and not let it be “the event that pushed us over the edge”.
The Prime Minister advised families to get vaccinated and celebrate in a “safe zone”.
“Try and avoid a funeral for Christmas. Act now! Get vaccinated and get them vaccinated, now,” he said, adding that 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 programme is under way, so go and get protection.
The Prime Minister outlined the strict Covid-19 measures other countries have adopted in treating with the pandemic, such as mandatory vaccination, and signalled that if T&T ever gets to this point it will be because of necessity to live.
“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,” he said.
He noted that New Zealand has been regarded as one of the countries that was fighting the virus most successfully.
He said they are 83-per cent vaccinated, hoping for 90 per cent, but a current wave has resulted in lockdown and the operations of bars, restaurants, cinemas, etc, as safe zones.
Rowley said New Zealand, a country of five million people, is currently reporting new infections at 200 cases per day, with 40 deaths so far.
He said that country will require teachers and workers in the health and disability sectors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and will lock down borders for another five months.
He noted Australia made vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels.
Rowley added that US President Joe Biden ordered all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, and a mandate that private-sector workers be vaccinated or tested weekly will be enforced in the United States from January 4, 2022.
He said the US government will also require employers with 100 or more employees to get their employees vaccinated by January 4, and require unvaccinated employees to produce proof of negative test results weekly.
He noted that Canada, in October, said it would place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave and require Covid-19 shots for air, train and ship passengers and also require all of its 338 lawmakers to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 when they return to work on November 22.
Neighbouring Barbados, he said, which reports a 50-per cent vaccination level is running a 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.
He added that Antigua is 57-per cent vaccinated; and ages 12 to 18, who are unvaccinated, cannot attend school.
He said unvaccinated government employees must remain away from work without pay.
Jamaica, he said, will be rolling out fresh measures, including a curfew.
With respect to Covid-19 expenditure, Rowley said the Government has taken every available measure to ensure the population is safeguarded from the virus. He said as at September 2021, $509.7 million was spent on the national Covid-19 response.
The Prime Minister said as he was preparing his presentation, he 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,” he said.
The Prime Minister assured that the fight against the virus will continue.
“At no point do we intend to concede that this fight with this virus is beyond us and is therefore unwinnable. 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,” he said.