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Trinidad and Tobago reported its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) yesterday, a 52-year-old man who came into the country from Switzerland on Monday night.

COVID-19’s arrival was really only a matter of time so in that sense, the announcement was really no surprise.

Yesterday, however, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh assured this was not “Armageddon” and we will get through it. We are sure we will!

Like the Government, we too urge the population not to panic. Yesterday, even ahead of the announcement by the Minister, there were long lines at supermarkets and other businesses as citizens stocked up on essential supplies, sanitizers, disinfectant and toilet paper. Some establishments even put limits on how much citizens could purchase.

We urge citizens to let good sense prevail. If someone is ill or showing symptoms of COVID-19, they should go to public health facilities to be tested.

While we commend the Government for its honesty and keeping the country updated on the situation, we are concerned about the national plan to deal with it.

We have been reading and listening to the international experts about the virus’ impact and seen its deadly toll and increasing numbers of global infections. However, we must be cognizant of the fact that thousands who tested positive have also recovered.

The reality is that it is here and citizens would naturally be concerned. This is a country where social media rules and yesterday, fake news spread like wildfire that schools were to be closed. As a nation, we need to be more responsible now that the virus is here.

We would also like those in authority to engage national stakeholders in discussions to come up with a unified and complete plan. Has such a process been initiated, or are we just playing it by ear?

Do the authorities know today how to deal with workers who fall ill at government offices? Will they get sick leave, casual leave or special leave? Surely, some uniformed decision must be spelt out so that employees who stay away from work following guidelines from the Health Ministry will not lose pay.

What is the role of the ODPM in mobilising to deal with the virus? Is there a role? Just as the Ministry of Health is issuing daily releases on the virus, the Ministry of Education must also be open with the population on what is happening at the education level. It is welcome news that the Government has stopped cruise ships from coming to our shores. We expect that citizens will also heed the call to only travel if absolutely essential.

This is not a time for panic or fear, but for good sense to prevail. Each of us has a responsibility to do what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones and ensure the virus does not spread as, at the end of the day, those in authority cannot be everywhere.