Members of the public on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

The public must observe strict calls not to engage in hand-shaking, kissing and hugging when they go out as officials warn that such relaxed behaviour could set back the success so far achieved in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

During the Ministry of Health’s daily media briefing yesterday – County Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), Caroni, Dr Jeanine St Bernard urged persons to avoid public gatherings as she reinforced social distancing and sanitisation protocols.

Highlighting what the CMOH’s have been doing, she said their duties included community testing; parallel facility management; coordination of public health inspector activities in communities; and contact tracing.

Claiming that they have been satisfying all requests by the public for testing in a bid to determine if there is any community spread, she detailed how the process worked – adding that extra efforts have been made to build relationships with residents to get them to be open and honest.

Regarding the return of food vendors to the streets and the reopening of food establishments, St Bernard said public health inspectors have been sent out with a check-list.

She revealed, “They check to see if there are hand-washing facilities for customers as well as owners of these food establishments if there are hand sanitisers provided for customers, if social distancing is in fact in effect, and if face masks are being worn both by the customer and owner.”

She added that similar procedures will be introduced for banks, hardwares, pharmacies, and other businesses allowed to operate during this phase.

Sharing some of the challenges they have faced in order to complete contact tracing, St Bernard said these included incorrect phone numbers for contacts; a lack of relevant contact information for some they might have come into contact with; and a refusal to answer the phone in some instances.

The police have also been tasked with assisting the authorities to help track down persons in come cases.

Warning that T&T was not out of danger yet, Technical Director, Epidemiology Division, Ministry of Health, Dr Avery Hinds said this was a critical and delicate phase in the overall plan to move forward.

He said the authorities were aware that there could be persons suffering with the virus that have not presented for testing and as such, a cautious approach was needed as far as the reopening of businesses was concerned.

Reiterating that community testing was underway, St Bernard said, “It’s not as if people are at home, dropping down like flies with COVID and we don’t know. Once they have any symptoms, they are literally being welcomed with open arms to the health centre.”

She added, “We are almost running down people, please come and test, we have the capacity. Were testing everyone. We do not believe there are persons out there with COVID that we are not aware of.”—Anna-Lisa Paul