A REPORT cited deliberations at a recent meeting of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, in which the membership, seemingly unhappy with public efforts to procure and roll out the Covid-19 vaccine, concluded that Trinidad and Tobago was positioning itself to be the last country in the region to fully reopen its economy.
With the media now agog with news of front line healthcare workers receiving the vaccine last Wednesday, the gloom precipitated by the Chamber’s projection should be lifted, but not so fast.
As I write, US President Joe Biden has announced, with cautious optimism, that by July this year, the US will have 600 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, a major boost to his country’s vaccination programme.
Biden revealed the rationale for cautiousness: that return to “normalcy” was highly unlikely before year’s end, given the multiple hurdles to be surmounted if herd immunity is to be achieved; that the country must move on with such major issues as the logistics of vaccine rollout, getting the unemployed and under-employed back to work, children back to classroom learning, and so on.
The obstacles to achieving herd immunity are just as daunting in T&T as in the US, and the decision-makers here must recognise this and also move on, but they won’t.
We have been in a position for some time now to return to at least near normalcy, but continue to chase after wooden nickels and, lately, they have been coming in bunches. In the past few weeks, the country has seen or heard the WHO (World Health Organisation) director-general, the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) representative in T&T, and the past US ambassador to T&T all praising the Government for its management of the pandemic.
These kudos are wooden nickels because they have bought the common people nothing. In countries such as Australia and New Zealand where newly confirmed cases have fallen to near zero (zero in T&T for a few days last week and for most of June into July in 2020), we see persons enjoying cricket or tennis, bunched together and maskless, children attending classes, no restrictions on gatherings, but organisers encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing, and so on.
What our cool spot with the virus has brought us is a ratcheting up of the anxiety that “misbehaving” will cause the virus to reappear and swallow all of us up.
So the beaches have been reopened, Divali has come and gone, so has Christmas, the New Year and the Tobago elections: no rise in cases. Now, we are being primed to expect a Covid-19 surge because CXC and CAPE exam-takers have returned to the classroom, there were virtual Carnival events in which attendees may have misbehaved and, of course, the numerous demonstrations for our fallen sisters.
There will be no surges; there is, quite simply, not enough virus endemic in the community to cause a surge.
The goal should be to bring viral control to a level that lockdown restraints that are perpetuating anxiety and fear and inflicting immeasurable damage to large swathes of the population, among them the poor and disenfranchised, schoolchildren, and persons in the food, beverage and entertainment industries, can be lifted. We are at a stage with this virus to do that.
Very early in the pandemic, it was suggested that viral spread in tropical and sub-tropical was completely different from Europe and the US. Most of the cases in the warmer countries were related to international travel or very close contact. That is also true for T&T: cases in point include outbreaks in the prison and among police recruits.
Also, “older persons with comorbidities” who are over-represented in the death rates here did not meet their demise from being out there socialising without masks. No, these unfortunate persons could not avoid close contact in their homes with infectious carriers of Covid-19.
Lastly, members of the public who fell for the notion that the last surge occurred because of “unlawful general election gatherings” need to regather their thoughts; consider that there was no surge in Tobago for the general election or the THA (Tobago House of Assembly) election.
We must avoid falling into these traps, the latest being that we must await a mass vaccination programme to return us to normalcy. As other countries who have reached elimination or near-elimination of the virus, we must continue to manage our borders the best we can, and above all, get on with it.