GIVEN the scientific position on the incubation period for Covid-19, the Parliament should have immediately instituted all testing and sanitising protocols on learning that the Prime Minister had tested positive for the virus. Had it acted as required, the country would’ve have been spared another divisive political tit-for-tat.
The science is clear on the issue of pre-symptomatic transmission of infection. To quote the World Health Organisation: “The incubation period for Covid-19, which is the time between exposure to the virus (becoming infected) and symptom onset, is on average five to six days, however it can be up to 14 days. During this period, also known as the “pre-symptomatic” period, some infected persons can be contagious. Therefore, transmission from a pre-symptomatic case can occur before symptom onset.
On this basis, it is clear that the Prime Minister was at Parliament and other public events, including a news conference within the 14-day period of possible transmission. His initial social media post reported him experiencing flu-like symptoms on Monday, April 5, which prompted the test that determined he was infected with the virus. A simple count of 14 days prior to April 5 would date his possible period of transmission back to March 23. This is straightforward maths that simply required everyone to follow the science which states that it is within the realm of possibility that Dr Keith Rowley could have been infected, and therefore capable of transmitting the virus anytime during that period, whether or not he was experiencing symptoms.
Knowing that Dr Rowley was physically at Parliament on March 26, 11 days before exhibiting symptoms, which was well within the 14-day pre-symptomatic period, the Speaker and the managers at Parliament should have immediately informed all MPs, staff and others who were present. Even if no one felt threatened, everyone should have been tested, and the premises evacuated for sanitising before the resumption of work and parliamentary sittings. The same goes for any other group of persons exposed to him during that period.
This is a separate issue from contact tracing which is investigative and multi-layered in nature to determine the source of infection and possible spread. Tracing was particularly important before we got to the stage of community spread when the authorities were focusing on isolating cases to prevent viral spread.
A week ago, the nation discovered that Attorney-General Faris Al-Rawi did not understand how Covid-19 was transmitted. Now, we are finding out that the Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and the Parliament also do not know. After his assurances at Saturday’s news conference, we are also concerned about Dr Avery Hinds. Dr Rowley’s case underscores the fact that the link between exposure and symptom is not as straight as many, including Dr Rowley himself, seem to think.
The Opposition United National Congress was right to express concern about returning to Parliament without the required public health protocols being implemented. Bearing in mind that there is an upsurge in cases and that not every infected person experiences or shows symptoms, we would hope that everyone who was in Dr Rowley’s close presence between March 23 and April 5 has already been tested and that the Parliament already sanitised.