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If the recent upsurge in COVID-19 cases wasn’t enough of a warning, then certainly the news that the highly infectious Brazil variant, P.1, should be a reminder that the pandemic is still with us. That should be a powerful wake-up call.

There are now two variants of the coronavirus among us—the B117 UK variant was confirmed in a positive case some months ago—and flagrant breaches of public health protocols have put this country in a very dangerous place.

As of Monday evening, there were 834 active positive cases of COVID-19 and 154 deaths.

Continuation of the irresponsible behaviour can bring us within a hair’s breadth of a resumption of a full lockdown of the country, which could be a death blow for the already struggling economy. There is also the danger of such a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases that the strain on public health would be too much, with more hospitalisations and deaths than the system can manage.

This threat to the nation’s health cannot be overstated.

Medical research has determined that with the Brazil variant, there is a key mutation that helps the virus evade parts of the immune system, called antibodies. It may be up to twice as transmissible as prior strains.

In the country from which that very virulent strain emerged, the death toll is second only to the United States at more than 4,000 a day. Contagious new variants are overwhelming hospitals, pushing Brazil’s healthcare system to breaking point.

Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor, described the situation in the South American country as “a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control.” He also compared it to “a biological Fukushima.”

This country will not be able to manage such an onslaught from COVID-19.

T&T’s best hope of avoiding such a scenario is more stringently following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines to stop the spread of the disease.

Even with vaccines now available, the most reliable measures to reduce transmission are still the same—frequent hand washing, wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowded places or closed settings.

These are the protocols that must be applied to stop the variants and are effective at reducing the amount of viral transmission and opportunities for COVID-19 to mutate.

It is also important for the vaccine programme, which started only a few weeks ago, to be rolled out as quickly and widely as possible. The priority must be on protecting people before they are exposed to the coronavirus, particularly now with the risk of the variants.

Only when a significant number of our citizens get vaccinated will circulation of COVID-19 decrease.

Vaccines are a critical tool in the battle against COVID-19 and although there are concerns that some of the vaccines might be somewhat less effective against the variants, the bigger threat to life and health is getting infected with a disease that has already claimed more than three million lives around the world.

To save lives and livelihoods in T&T, the variants must be kept at bay.