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Flashback: Illegal Venezuelan nationals who were taken back by the T&T Coast Guard to the Venezuelan Guardia Nacional Bolivariana in July.

Chief Medical Officer Roshan Parasram said there has always been concern surrounding the effects of illegal immigration on the country’s ability to eradicate the COVID-19 virus from within the population. However, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds believes this is not as significant of a risk to the virus’ transmission right now.

“If you have continuous introduction or reintroduction of a virus it may be difficult to eradicate,” he said.

Responding to another question, Dr Parasram indicated that illegal immigration also presents risks for importing other diseases – as it has done before.

“We saw it with Malaria many years ago that there was a change in the trend that we were seeing in terms of imported malaria occurring in Trinidad and Tobago. What we had seen maybe about six or seven years ago is that predominantly, the cases of Malaria that we were importing into Trinidad were predominantly from Guyana, Africa and India. About six or seven years ago we saw a trend that changed to the majority of imported cases that we started to have was actually from Venezuela and that area of South America,” he said.

This is why he said, it not only poses a threat for transmitting COVID-19 but also for other diseases.

But he notes that this is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago.

“We are so close to other territories. We’re virtually seven miles away from those areas. Persons can come quickly between us and them. We see it happen with other…CARICOM states. For example, Guyana which shares a land border with those territories and persons can actually get across. So it is a continuing issue,” he said.

Dr Parasram said it’s a migration issue which has been communicated to the Ministry of National Security.

However, Dr Hinds noted that with the country’s current epidemiological situation, illegal immigration is not the biggest threat.

“My concern is actually that we keep focusing on probably the least of our worries at this point in time. And in doing so that we don’t unduly and unnecessarily a- stigmatize a group of people and b- distract from the more important source of illness.

Every time someone asks where is the illness coming from – it’s coming from the population. People still have it,” he said.

On the issue of other diseases within the population, Dr Parasram noted that this year, the country has recorded record low cases of dengue within recent history.

“I believe we have 44 suspected cases for the year. One confirmed case. When we go back historically to the last few years, last year we would have had around 300 plus cases of suspected cases of dengue. So for this year, we’ve had the lowest number of dengue cases I would say going back almost a decade.”

He also noted that the public health measures instituted to protect against COVID-19 are also playing a role in suppressing the influenza virus.

“Basically we’re seeing a reduction in the number of influenza cases we are seeing as well for this year. I don’t have the exact figure but I think we have around 33, 34 suspected cases so far. There have been six influenza confirmed cases for the year. That would include some from last season.”

— Rishard Khan