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Roshan Parasram

Revised quarantine measures for more people coming from abroad and heavier filtered masks for the public may be needed after global spread of the new COVID strain which is over 50 per cent more contagious than the current COVID-19 virus.

Bidding to prevent virus entry via illegals, the Health Ministry yesterday also approached the Caribbean Public Health facility to test for the new strain among migrants who’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

The emergence of the new strain will delay reopening of T&T’s borders.

“Vigilance will have to be somewhat more increased, including at airports…” said Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram yesterday.

He spoke about the threat, replying to queries from Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) members on the new strain.

Members of the Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities JSC, headed by Dr Varma Deyalsingh questioned health officials and the Airports Authority management.

Deyalsingh who said the Ministry of Health had done a very good job in containing COVID-19, noted dangers of the new strain which emerged in the UK and South Africa.

If it enters T&T, Deyalsingh said there will be “major, major challenges straining T&T’s health systems.”

Parasram said the new strain is now in 38 countries including Jamaica. Other parts of the Caribbean had it since last September. It’s a matter of time before those areas have positive cases, he added.

Parasram said mitigation action at T&T ports have been good enough and since borders are closed to Caricom neighbours T&T’s been able to keep the new strain out so far.

“It seems we’re starting over this new year and having significant concerns like last year.”

The new strain was noted and thought to be circulating globally since September. It was suggested it was in the US long before the “first” Colorado case was found last month. He said that person would have gotten it from someone else there without travelling.

“We know so far it’s more than 50 per cent more infectious in nature, can spread from one person to another much more quickly. Large First World countries are being overrun very quickly.”

Parasram said the first aim is to keep the virus out.

“We came under much scrutiny as people wanted to go home but possibility of a new strain was always at the back of our minds. Now we see it’s a real concern.”

“We’ll maintain our quarantine positions for now, look to see where else it’s spreading and advise the Prime Minister what next step will be taken with quarantine and the airport.”

Quarantine has already been revised for people coming from the UK who have to do full 14-day state/state–supervised stints.

“But in recent days with 38-plus countries carrying the new strain, there has to be revision in the way we do quarantining for other countries also. It’s a matter for discussion with the Prime Minister in coming days.”

He said quarantine is most critical after airport arrival. The possibility of lengthening quarantine back to 14 days also exists.

“It‘s our best bet for containing it at any legitimate port of entry for now.”

Parasram said people coming through legitimate borders are tested but there are people entering illegally. Since T&T’s risk will “go according to who enters our country,” he said the Health Ministry yesterday approached Caribbean Public Health lab to test for the new strain among COVID positive tests from the migrant population to see “if that particular part of the world has been so infected.”

Parasram said the new strain would delay any date for reopening T&T borders.

A Health Ministry sub-committee had a rolling date for border reopening to consider. Parasram added, “Earlier we all thought by September the pandemic would be declining in various states and we thought we‘d have taken a staggered-phased approach to reopening borders to people from low-risk countries.”

“But the new strain has put a damper on the way we were planning to reopen. The decision lies ultimately with the Prime Minister but we’d make our recommendation.”