RADHICA DE SILVA
Even though calls have been made to postpone elections because of an increase in locally spread COVID-19 cases, medical experts believe the elections should go on.However, the experts say the police and the Elections and Boundaries Commission must be rigid in ensuring that all electors follow the most stringent health care protocols.Speaking to Guardian Media, Dr Joel Teelucksingh, consultant physician and host of CNC3’s Ask The Doctor, said postponing the election was not necessary.“There have been physical, psychosocial and socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Guidelines from the Ministry of Health re-voting should be adhered to. It may not be necessary to postpone elections but campaigns could have been more rigid with reducing risk,” he said.With over 30 locally spread cases and 207 COVID-19 positive cases, Dr Teelucksingh said social distancing with proper markers, facilities for handwashing or sanitizing and facemasks will decrease the risk at polling stations. “Persons should utilise their own stationery and be encouraged to sanitise hands before and after voting. It is the role of the EBC to ensure persons with disabilities are able to understand and are not disenfranchised during the process,” he said.He said despite the increase in local cases, proper health protocols could reduce spread.“The pillars of battling this pandemic include increased testing, isolation and contact tracing. I must give kudos to the tireless health care workers involved in the process,” he said.Asked to clarify community spread and local spread, Dr Teelucksingh said, “A cluster occurs when there are infections in the same area at the same time. Sporadic cases refer to a small number of cases (one or more) that are imported or detected in the country. This occurred previously.
However, community transmission refers to larger outbreaks of local cases with numerous unrelated clusters. These require a systematic, structured approach and careful analysis to determine the distribution of cases…thus ‘pending investigation.”He noted that while patient confidentiality must be protected, it was prudent for the public to be aware of areas visited by confirmed cases.“Community transmission is yet to be confirmed by the Ministry of Health. This requires consideration of further lockdown strategies if the surge continues,” he added.He also recommended that the government pass legislation regarding mandatory use of masks. “Persons with severe lung disease or cancer may be granted medical exemptions if unable to tolerate. However, if most people use these, there will be protection for those unable to do so. This is similar to mass vaccination programmes that will reduce risk to persons who cannot receive these,” he said.While it may be difficult to pass the legislation before the election, Dr Teelucksingh said this should be considered.Meanwhile, another medical source who requested anonymity said local spread is the same as community spread, noting that it was merely “a question of semantics.”“There has been a reluctance by the Ministry to say community spread. To me, community spread is where there is no history of travel and the person got it in the community and it is passed on or spread in the community,” the source said.He added, “ I heard the Chief Medical Officer of Health say for a community spread to occur, there have to be various clusters of local spread and if those two clusters are in connection with each other, that is community spread. That sounds like nonsense to me. It’s in the community, it’s spreading in the community, its community spread,” the doctor said.He added, “ I believe it was always in the community but they were not testing enough. People will tell you they haven’t been tested because they had no history of travel. The Ministry had people believing they had everything under control so people became complacent.”Asked whether he believed the elections should be postponed, the source said, “I think we should still have elections and people should follow the protocols, wear a mask and sanitation available going in and out. People should stay outside as much as possible and once you vote go home. Voting areas should be well ventilated and once you do that, anything arising out of the election process itself will be small.” He agreed that masks should be mandatory.“Too many people are walking about without masks,” he added.On Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said postponing elections was not on the cards.
He noted that the threshold for postponing the election “is that the virus is out of control.”
However, he said the virus is not raging in T&T and the situation is under control.