Not too long after Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh assured citizens yesterday that the UK variant of COVID-19 that recently entered the country had been successfully contained, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted a news briefing at which he warned that the variant might be deadlier than first thought.
The two men presented contrasting perspectives on the pandemic—Mr Johnson’s concern about the higher mortality rate detected in the more infectious variant and Minister Deyalsingh’s confidence in this country’s quarantine protocols ability to keep the mutant virus at bay.
But the Health Minister’s declaration that there will be no “knee-jerk” or “panicked” reactions to the latest developments with the pandemic in T&T did little to dispel uncertainties with the constantly evolving pandemic.
So, while there will be no new restrictions or protocols in response to the UK variant, the need for vigilance, which Mr Deyalsingh underscored during the ministry’s virtual briefing, takes on greater urgency given new details emerging about the virus.
The new variant spreads between 30 per cent and 70 per cent faster than other versions of COVID-19 and now, based on data from British scientists, seems to be about 30 per cent more deadly.
Then there are the other variants, including the one from Brazil called P1, which has a set of about 20 mutations, including three that are particularly concerning because they could more infectious and could decrease the efficacy of vaccines.
These are among the multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 emerging around the world, including several documented in the United States.
In the face of all these developments, with vaccines yet to arrive in this country, our public health professionals are using moral suasion to encourage responsible behaviour and adherence to protocols. But that strategy is becoming less and less effective.
The mask mandate has so far proven to be one of the most effective measures against the spread of COVID-19 because even with strict border controls, the coronavirus still manages to get through—a returning national brought the UK variant into the country.
Also, the Brazil variant lurking not too far away from our shores could gain access with migrants who are regularly breaching T&T’s porous maritime borders.
Laws for the wearing of masks, which Guardian Media lobbied for successfully last year, have worked to a large extent but are not on their own sufficient to safeguard the population against constantly mutating versions of COVID-19.
That is because restrictions on crowd sizes are not always adhered to and social distancing is not consistently observed. Rising COVID-19 numbers indicate a lowering of the guard against this deadly disease.
Considering all this, Mr Deyalsingh’s declaration of successful containment of the UK variant seems a tad premature and is not the message the country needs to hear now.
If T&T is to avoid the worst-case scenario of a surge in cases and reintroduction of a strict lockdown, it is time to prioritise the acquisition of vaccines along with fine-tuning of protocols to reverse the COVID-19 fatigue that has started setting in.
Our response to the virus, like the virus itself, must evolve.