Dr Anthony Fauci, the world-renowned virologist at present making headlines as the arch-enemy of US President Donald Trump in the perennial battle between science and politics, is hardly an unfamiliar figure on the local political landscape.
In fact, as attuned as the typical Trinbagonian is to network TV, the confirmation by the good doctor on the August 14 edition of the Instagram Live programme that sunlight does kill Covid-19 was greeted eagerly by prominent Opposition members, leading once again to talk of raising in Parliament the Government’s management of the Covid-19 crisis; this proposition was again not entertained by Madam Speaker.
The above is rehashed to underscore the fact that despite the huge and ever-expanding body of relevant scientific research in the matter, the opposing sides remain affixed to their respective interests—certain about their version of the facts. It is raised by me at this time to explore where common values can be found to break the impasse: recent events have signalled more difficult days ahead for the Trinidad and Tobago populace in the event of failure to do so.
Faced with burgeoning evidence that lockdowns have ravaged economies, especially those heavily reliant on the service sector (according to the United Nations envoy, “making poor people poorer”), the World Health Organisation (WHO) now forcefully rejects the lockdown option, relegating it to the bottom rung of policies and action plans to combat the scourge of Covid-19.
The anxiety to immediately find an alternative option(s) was rendered more acute when Finance Minister Colm Imbert, in his preamble, pegged success with the many and novel initiatives in the national budget to success in eliminating the virus.
Bottom line, it is not one or the other—eliminating Covid-19 or fixing the economy. The two objectives are inextricably intertwined, and the path for success with both can be found not only in following the science but in steadfastly pursuing the common good, attributes most politicians readily self-embrace.
Dr Fauci’s confirmation that sunshine kills Covid-19 is a phenomenon that achieves the desired objectives with minimal negative impacts on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Dr Fauci, when asked by the host of Intagram Live whether sunlight kills Covid-19, responded as follows: “It does. That’s one of the reasons why outside in the sun when you are interacting.... That is much, much better than being inside.” He then summarised the benefits of the summer sun with one of his oft-repeated mantras, “Outside is always better than inside.”
The science behind Dr Fauci’s statement is exhaustive and exceeds the limits of this letter. Suffice it to say that an avalanche of studies shows warmer and more humid weather makes the Covid-19 bug less stable and thus less transmissible; alternatively, temperate weather supports viral replication and transmissibility, and drives people indoors. A study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology in June noted that 99 per cent of the Covid-19 virus may be inactivated within the two-hour period around solar noon in most US cities south of latitude 43 degrees north—T&T has the coveted weather.
Other studies point to lower vitamin D levels commonly found in institutionalised persons, persons with diabetes and hypertension, and the elderly as being responsible for the higher mortality rates from Covid-19 seen in these groups. Vitamin D is an essential component of the immune system and is mainly synthesised via sunlight contact with the skin. Thus, sunlight plays a direct and indirect role in managing the virus and it’s mal-effects; it accentuates why outside is always better than inside.
In terms of local applicability of the foregoing, T&T’s decision-makers are urged to follow the science and exercise the mantra to pursue the common good by taking immediate steps to reverse critical components of the lockdown instituted in March when scientific understanding of the trials and tribulations occasioned by the virus was lacking.
For starters, ads promoting stay-home policies should be replaced by ads promoting outdoors, and beaches and parks reopened, both actions with accompanying stipulations to maintain the public health regulations of social distancing, wearing of masks and so on.
Lockdowns also pose psychosocial and emotional challenges which can be ameliorated by the fundamental steps described above towards eliminating the virus and reopening the economy.