The news that a person confirmed as Patient #139 was out in public for a week with symptoms before testing positive, and that at least one primary contact had visited a popular downtown store and a bank in San Juan should shake the population out of its complacency on Covid-19.
The battle against Covid-19 is not yet won. Indeed Patient #139 gives real cause for concern since, according to public health officials, this person has no recent travel history.
Redoubling our efforts against this deadly virus is particularly important in the context of the current election campaign where candidates and their supporters are seen hugging and huddling, unmasked and operating without respect for social-distancing.
In this, we should be guided by the many examples of countries and cities which have had to roll back the easing of lockdown measures because of a rise in cases. Trinidad and Tobago has done very well so far, to the point where children due to sit this year’s Secondary Entrance Assessment exam have been able to return to classes this week, opening hours for bars have been re-extended to 10 p.m. and everyone can be back at the office if required to be there, although under stipulated conditions.
Notwithstanding all of this however, we must all recognise that our sense of comfort and confidence is based on the testing of a very limited pool of persons, 4,655 persons in all, on whom a total of 6,186 tests have been conducted. In a population of 1.3 million, this is a mere 0.34 per cent. However, although that figure is minuscule, the methodology applied in identifying, tracking and tracing has been quite effective. If it wasn’t, there would have been large numbers of people turning up at hospitals across the country and seeking emergency treatment.
The public must be understandably anxious to know how Patient #139, who has no recent travel history, contracted the virus given that in almost every case, the virus had been imported. Limited testing has always presented the risk that asymptomatic individuals and others with minor symptoms may be operating with comfort among us completely unaware of their condition. This may have been the case with Patient #139 who might have assumed s/he had the flu or common cold and went about their business, perhaps with a dose of cold tablets.
Given the mildness of some cases, a person does not necessarily have to be reckless to miss the danger signs. However, the implications of contracting the virus should make every one of us more deeply sensitive to our health condition. This will become increasingly important with the approach of the flu season when many people will confuse the flu and Covid-19, with serious consequences for public health resources and the risk of viral spread.
Especially now, with two and a half weeks to the general election of August 10, we cannot afford to incur the risk of spread. Any such indication could affect voter turnout. To stay the course against Covid-19, the rules have to be respected and enforced, especially by the politicians offering themselves as being fit to lead the country. They must lead by example.