by Kalain Hosein

On March 12th, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Trinidad and Tobago. Today, two months later, we have one active case left. However, life, as we know it, has changed forever.

A population known for enjoying the days off at home are becoming antsy after one month of the stay-at-home measures. A trip to the grocery, the pharmacy, or the hardware is now an event. How did we get here, and where do we go next?

The COVID-19 Journey – By The Cases

Our first case of the novel coronavirus was an imported case, confirmed on March 12th, 2020. Since then, we have seen 115 cases add to the total – both imported and what is considered local spread or transmission.

According to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Roshan Parasram, and World Health Organization (WHO) reports, T&T has not reported instances of community transmission to date, with only sporadic cases.

On March 17th, a group of nationals, who were stranded on the ill-fated Costa Favolosa cruise, were repatriated and placed directly into quarantine at Camp Balandra. Sixty-eight nationals were part of the first group, with three individuals who returned on their own accord, totaling 72. Of these, 52 tested positive.

The disease was first confirmed on Tobago’s shores on March 23rd, as another imported case.

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Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh laves the Red House after attending the sitting of Parliament.

On March 26th, Trinidad and Tobago recorded its first death. Between March 26th and April 6th, the country recorded a single death nearly every day, with one occurring in Tobago. Since April 6th, however, no new deaths attributed to COVID-19 have been recorded, with our death toll remaining at eight.

According to the CMO, all eight deaths in Trinidad and Tobago were people over the age of fifty-five and had preexisting health conditions. Based on the demographic breakdown on April 10th, COVID-19 has infected 46 males versus 63 females. The demographic data on April 19th gave a slightly different picture, with 45 males versus 65 females. This is anomalous compared to global data, which shows males are disproportionately affected.

By March 27th, our COVID-19 recovery was announced, but it took two weeks for this number to begin increasing. By the end of April, 73 people had recovered. Two months later, this increased to 107 people. As of May 11th, one patient remains in the Caura Hospital, pending their discharge.

The Issue of Testing

Testing continues to be a contentious topic of public discourse, with critics stating that T&T is not testing sufficiently. Through the first two months of the pandemic in T&T, legitimate testing could only be done through the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). Due to the guidelines set out by the WHO, CARPHA initially rejected samples submitted, which bred ire in the population.

Nearly five weeks after repeated requests from the media, the Ministry of Health offered some clarity to our testing situation. Beginning April 21st, the MoH’s morning press release itemized the number of unique and repeated samples. The total submitted tests was also clarified as it did not include rejected samples.

The Couva Hospital where patients are warded.

Trinidad and Tobago began a surveillance testing on April 14th. It is done to determine what kind of viruses are circulating at any given time, not a novel situation in T&T. It would also indicate if people outside the case definition for COVID-19 test positive for the disease.

For COVID-19, the MoH is conducting a random sampling of persons who meet the case definition for Acute Viral Illness. One sample per day is selected by a physician from selected health centers in Trinidad and Tobago and sent for testing. To date, all surveillance samples have tested negative for COVID-19.

By May 1st, testing could now be done locally through the University of the West Indies testing site at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.

The Government’s Response

Trinidad and Tobago was ahead of most countries in enacting a travel ban. On January 30th, 2020, people who lived in or visited China within the past 14 days was barred entry into the country.

The ban was later expanded to Iran, South Korea, Italy, Singapore, and Japan on February 27th, just after Carnival. On March 10th, it was extended to Spain, France, and Germany.

On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. One day later, the Ministry of Health confirmed T&T had its first COVID-19 patient. Already uneasy about international developments, life in T&T was about to change drastically.

The first major statement, on March 13th, was the closure of schools for one week. Three days later, the Prime Minister made several significant announcements. Schools were to remain closed until April 20th, which effectively ended the second term of the academic year. Bars were now closed, and in-house dining was not permitted for the next fourteen days.

The One Caribbean plane bringing the first set of Trinidadian nationals back from Barbados landed at the Piarco International Airport in early April. Immediately upon taxiing down the runway, the passengers and crew were met by the vehicular convoy.

Our borders were closed to all non-nationals for fourteen days. On March 23rd, our borders were closed for everyone – except cargo and those with special permissions from the Ministry of National Security.

Religious gatherings, social gatherings, beach limes, a trip to the river, and even to the cinema were no more. By March 26th, the Prime Minister asked all non-essential workers to stay at home, and on March 30th, all non-essential businesses were closed until April 30th. On April 25th, the stay-at-home order was extended until May 15th.

On May 9th, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley announced the phased re-opening of the country, following the first meeting of T&T’s economic recovery team. “As we monitor, if the numbers are just as good as now, we will take steps to advance the phases.”

Bars, beaches, rivers, cinemas, gyms, malls, and even hairdressing services will remain closed, opening in later phases. Schools will also remain closed until September.