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Members of the public on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

United National Congress MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh says many people have called him about COVID-19 symptoms but they haven’t gone for testing—despite his advice to do so— since they’re scared about conditions at Balandra and other centres where suspected or asymptomatic patients are being placed.

Gopeesingh spoke about the situation yesterday. Earlier, during yesterday’s daily Government update on the COVID-19 crisis, acting County Medical Health Officer Dr Alana Quamina-Best, spoke about the “step down” facilities at Balandra and Sangre Grande where some patients are housed.

Quamina-Best said the facilities are not hospitals but have nurses and doctors on call. She said patients are given meals, including fruit and water and afforded counselling via phone. Families can’t visit but can leave packages for patients, who also can’t leave the compounds.

She said as of yesterday, all primary care facilities had begun doing “surveillance” of people with acute respiratory issues to see what illnesses are circulating in the population and focus will also be put on people known to have come into contact with COVID patients. Quamina-Best said some people—not all—with acute respiratory issues would be tested, plus those who’d been in contact with possible/probable COVID patients. The latter would be tested for the virus separate from the surveillance testing at primary health centres.

Yesterday evening’s Ministry of Health statistics showed 1,174 samples being tested in T&T, 113 positive cases, eight deaths and 17 people being discharged. The death toll has been at eight since April 7 although samples tested rose from 825 at that time to 1,174 yesterday.

But Gopeesingh said the numbers may not necessarily reflect the true situation and may only be the tip of the iceberg.

“People have called me about COVID symptoms but although I advise calling the Hotline and getting tested, they’re scared when they see people being packed into rooms like in the Balandra centre and the other problems reported about the Sangre Grande centre, they don’t want to go into these places. So they’re staying home,” he said.

Gopeesingh said he hasn’t followed up with such persons to see if they called the Hotline or got tested. As a result of people being scared to be tested and possible skewing of COVID numbers, Gopeesingh felt more testing should be done.

He also said Government’s specification for testing was too narrow.

“The more testing you do, the better informed you are on numbers. You have to assume everyone with a respiratory problem has COVID till proven otherwise—but they’re hoodwinking the public. “The virus has a five per cent mortality rate, the flu has less than one per cent. The first duty is to eliminate COVID as a cause of illness,” he said.

He added, “If as the Prime Minister and Health Minister say they’d been preparing for this since January, how can they account for the lack of testing, lack of PPE and establishment of these facilities where some patients are housed?”

UNC’s Dr Fuad Khan, who also expressed concern about the handling of respiratory cases at hospitals, noted that apart from the recent death of the mother of the Sanjay Badri-Maharaj family at the Mt Hope hospital, he’d received a report of a man who also died last week.

He claimed, “The person was admitted and treated the same way as Mrs Badri-Maharaj. His family is very upset, as they say he was placed in the isolation room next to the emergency section, later died and his COVID test returned negative.”