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A group of men sit outside the Lord Street Connection Recreation Club in San Fernando yesterday.

Rishard Khan and

Peter Christopher

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is not out of the ordinary but the country must still take the necessary safeguards to ensure the virus does not overwhelm the health system.

Rowley made the comment yesterday following his swearing-in, after being asked if measures put in place had been effective given the rise of cases, which stood at 534 active cases yesterday afternoon and 686 overall.

“It’s too early to determine that but let’s start with this, this is 2020. We are in a pandemic. The virus is amongst us, the way it spreads from 1 to 10 to 100 to 500 to a thousand, what we are trying to do by the protocols that we have in place is to break that bridge It’s a geometrical growth of numbers so nothing out of the ordinary is happening,” Rowley said at President’s House, St Ann’s.

He called on the public to take greater responsibility for the fight against the virus.

“I am appealing to the national population at a personal level to consider yourself exposed to virus and also consider yourself to have some responsibility for its suppression,” he said.

Noting the new measures Government had taken for the next 28 days, Rowley said, “We have decided to reduce the number of people exposed so as to reduce the risk and we are doing that for 28 days. We will evaluate along the way and we expect that if the population do the sensible things that we have been asking for all along, that the statistical improvement will take place.

“If on the other hand, the number of people who behave as if it is no problem and they’re irresponsible then those numbers could be a real challenge for us.”

Speaking during yesterday’s Ministry of Health virtual press conference, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram also said the current 500-plus caseload within the last month had placed “additional stress” on the parallel healthcare system. Despite this, he said there’s a long way to go before the system becomes critical but warned it could easily be pushed in that direction.

Yesterday, the ministry confirmed 57 additional positive cases, three of which were in Tobago, bringing the total number of positive tests in the country since March 12 to 686. There are 534 active cases and deaths remain at 12. Since case 139 ushered in the country’s second phase of the virus there have been 547 cases recorded since July 20.

Referring to this explosion of cases over the past four weeks during yesterday’s virtual press conference, Parasram noted the additional stress on the system could be manifesting itself in the lag time for citizens to receive test results.

During the initial phase of the epidemic, results were received within 24 to 48 hours of a sample being taken. Now, there are reports these results could take up to weeks for some due to the large number taken, which has created a backlog. The hotline set up by the ministry for the public to access information is also becoming harder to get through on, as often hundreds of calls are coming in at a time.

However, Parasram said the system can cope with the current number of patients but cautioned this could quickly change if citizens are errant.

“At this point, I think it’s safe to say we have the capacity to cope with this number. However, as we have seen in other countries, if the public health measures that were instituted on Monday morning are not adhered to, we can see 400 becoming 800 and 800 becoming 1,600 in a very short space of time and that is what we are trying to guard against because once you have that happening, there’s no way any health system can cope if you have exponential rises in numbers,” Parasram said.

He said citizens may not be guaranteed the level of treatment currently being afforded to all patients if the system reaches its threshold.

“We would have to change the way we see patients,” he said.

“For now, we have even mild patients being hospitalised – which is a very good thing. In most parts of the world that are overrun by COVID, it’s very difficult to get severe people in (to the) hospital.”

Current protocol dictates that all those who test positive for COVID-19 are treated at hospital. Once they are ambulatory and in recovery, they are decanted into step-down facilities to await two negative test results 24 hours apart after being asymptomatic for seven consecutive days. After this, they are discharged.