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Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh, left and Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram bounce elbows after yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s. An elbow bounce is now considered to be a safer form of greeting than a handshake or kiss in the wake of the global spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The local spread of COVID-19 appears to have already begun in T&T.

Speaking at a virtual press conference hosted by the Ministry of Health, yesterday morning, Chief Medical Officer (DMO) Dr Roshan Parasram indicated that the ministry was awaiting the results of epidemiological investigations to determine whether the infections of at least two of the four latest cases, were caused by recent travel history or by coming into contact with a previously confirmed case.

While he noted that such transmissions were anticipated by the ministry in addition to a plethora of imported cases, he noted that they were not to be misclassified as community spread.

“When we talk about community spread, it means that there a large number of local cases and all of them have been communicating heavily and are basically spreading it to large segments of the population. We have not gotten to the stage of community spread but we are seeing the first few cases of local spread, which is normally part of the epidemic evolution,” Parasram said.

“We expect the numbers to increase,” Parasram added.

As of yesterday, there were 83 confirmed cases in T&T. Three people have died locally from the virus.

Parasram reiterated the ministry’s advisories including a mandate for workers of non-essential industries to stay home over the next two weeks and for persons to practice social distancing.

“I think the time has come for us as a society to behave as if the person sitting next to us is positive for COVID-19. It is an invisible pathogen, it is something we cannot see. There are asymptomatic carriers meaning that someone with no symptoms may carry the disease. There is a risk to everyone because we can’t see it,” Parasram said.

During the press conference, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh indicated that T&T’s current caseload is 62.4 cases per million persons as compared to the global average of 102.92 per million persons.

“The next two weeks, depending on how people respond to the orders that the Ministry of Health has sent out will determine, how this case burden rises from 62.4 per million,” Deyalsingh said.

He was again careful to note that of the 83 positive test results, 49 were passengers of the cruise ship, Costa Favolosa.

Sixty-nine of the passengers, who were T&T nationals, were flown in on a charter flight and were quarantined in Balandra, while smaller groups travelled separately and were quarantined.

Deyalsingh stated that the ministry and the government had taken aggressive and robust measures to contain the spread of the virus but needed citizens to now do their part by strictly following their advisories.

“Every regulation to date has been with the sole objective to protect individuals, the elderly, the family and health care workers. That has been the objective,” he said.

While responding to questions from media personnel, who used video conferencing software to participate from their offices, Parasram sought to give an explanation on how a COVID-19 patient may be cleared to be discharged. Thus far only one local patient has recovered and has been discharged, while three others have passed away.

While he admitted that some countries were utilising methods which may result in persons being discharged while still carrying the virus, Parasram noted that the ministry was employing World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols. He explained that in order to be discharged, a person must not show symptoms for seven days and must have to successful negative tests.

Although Parasram admitted that there was some evidence that aerosolisation of the virus may occur for up to three hours in Intensive Care Units (ICUs), he stated that respiratory droplet transfer was still the main means of transmission noted by the WHO.

He noted that health care workers treating infected patients had been issued with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and training to sufficiently protect them against infection.