In his latest warning about the COVID-19 pandemic as he wrapped up parliamentary debate on the motion to end the State of Emergency (SoE) on Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said: “The storm is with us, and we are going full speed ahead.”

It was a reference to the latest wave of the pandemic to hit the country. On the very day that Dr Rowley offered that grim assessment, an astounding 781 new cases of COVID-19 were reported by the Ministry of Health—a new daily record for cases.

However, unlike previous occasions when there were upsurges in cases and deaths, PM Rowley said there will be no locking down of the economy this time around. Instead, he said citizens will have to “buckle down and survive by fighting the virus.”

That is a tall order in this country, where efforts to fight the coronavirus have been impeded by vaccine resistance, pandemic fatigue, liberal sharing of misinformation and the Trinbagonian propensity for flouting rules and abusing loopholes in public health regulations.

Just this week, Guardian Media reported exclusively on gaps in the home quarantine system which made it near impossible to monitor people placed under those orders. It is thus possible for infected persons to breach their quarantines, go out in public and liberally spread the infection.

That is why the lifting of the SoE has led to very real fears of flagrant public health breaches that could make our already dire COVID-19 situation much worse. There are concerns about an increase in super-spreader limes and parties that will test the capacity of the T&T Police Service (TTPS)

How T&T survives this latest COVID storm requires that citizens become much more disciplined and adopt practical ways to live safely with COVID-19.

Medical experts have said that the goal of zero COVID-19 infections is unrealistic, even if stringent public health regulations are enforced. The focus should instead be on ensuring enough people get some level of immunity, preferably through vaccination, for COVID-19 to transition to the endemic stage.

Getting this country to the stage of fewer hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19, although cases may continue to rise and fall, should be the main objective. In addition, efforts to flatten the pandemic curve—a goal that has not been mentioned in months—must continue to prevent the collapse of the already overwhelmed parallel healthcare system.

As arduous a task as it has become, efforts to get the unvaccinated to take a vaccine must continue. Every unvaccinated person is an opportunity for the virus to mutate and become more infectious and deadly.

And if that were not bad enough, the latest medical research shows variants like Beta, Gamma and now Delta, are eroding some of the protection provided by the vaccines.

The challenge facing T&T is clear and very daunting. Dr Rowley is right. In our epic battle against COVID-19, lockdowns are no longer a viable option. Instead, there must be more emphasis on convincing vaccine-hesitant adults to get immunised in the push for herd immunity.

T&T will not be able to return to pre-pandemic ways of working, learning and socialising—free of face masks and physical distancing—until safe ways are found to live with COVID-19.