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Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh answers a question on T&T’s COVID-19 readiness during yesterday’s sitting of Senate.

There are more than enough N-95 masks in the public sector in event of a COVID-19 outbreak and a further 25,000 masks arrive next week – but health workers will only get the masks if and when a COVID-19 case occurs.

That’s the word from Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, who replied to Opposition questions on the issue in the Senate yesterday.

United National Congress Senator Wade Mark had queried a reported shortage of the masks, which are required by health care providers attending to COVID-19 cases. The number of global cases are now over 90,000, including three in the Caribbean.

Deyalsingh said Mark’s query stemmed from certain daily articles, including one attributing comments to University of the West Indies Professor Brian Copeland. Deyalsingh said Copeland called him yesterday “in shock” to say he never made the reported comment.

Deyalsingh said the other article concerned a shortage of N-95 masks. He said while there’s a shortage in the private sector there’s absolutely no shortage in the public sector.

Deyalsingh added, “We have more than enough stock and in the event that an epidemic or outbreak should happen. As a signatory to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organisation (WHO), this country has access to PAHO strategic stock of emergency Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Panama which can be rushed to T&T in 48 hours if required.

“So far as the public’s concerned, there’s no shortage. We even have a further shipment of 25,000 masks coming in from 3M in about a week to add to the 23,000 we already have in stock – so absolutely no shortage in the public sector,” he said, dismissing reports which he said were driven by social media.

When Mark queried why nurses were threatening to stop work without protective wear Deyalsingh accused the UNC of driving an “untrue narrative.”

He added, “The ministry has a stockpile and all PPE will be made available from our stock to frontline workers when there’s an outbreak or if there’s one. It makes little sense to distribute now when there’s no outbreak.

“Bearing in mind that global supply chains have been affected, we have to protect our stocks. If we have an outbreak, our strategic stocks will be activated and more will be available. There’s enough PPE stock for nurses, doctors and other frontline people.

“You don’t distribute stock now and then it gets lost in the system and if you have a positive case you have none. We have it. It’ll be made available to public sector frontline people for their protection when there’s confirmed or even a suspected case.”

He said everybody “wants their five minutes of fame on the issue.” Deyalsingh complained that he had to answer 40 calls every morning where he refuted social media claims, “… largely driven by the UNC.”

Following the resignation of Tobago House of Assembly Secretary for Health Dr Agatha Carrington, Deyalsingh assured that systems for management of any COVID-19 issue in Tobago were also part of the national response plan.