Barbados could potentially stage a General Election with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases, but according to public health officials, the percentage of seriously ill will be lower than previous outbreaks, once the Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain.
Predictive modelling from the University of the West Indies released on Wednesday shows that daily cases could range from 1,200 to 3,500 over a four to six-week period, that at the very worst could yield up to 91,000 cases.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the Most Honourable Dr Kenneth George revealed that the levels of COVID-19 cases could be so high that persons in self-isolation will be asked to exercise tremendous personal responsibility, as healthcare officials tend to more serious situations.
Deputy CMO Dr Anton Best added that although the risk of serious illness and death is relatively low, the 700 people predicted to be in hospitals at a time during the surge could “overload” the healthcare system.
News of the pending spike falls in the middle of island-wide election campaigning, despite protests from two political parties about the timing of the pending poll.
Former Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley declared that with thousands potentially unable to vote, the event could not be deemed as “free and fair”. UWI law lecturer and DLP candidate Dr Ronnie Yearwood has also warned that legal challenges could emerge if infected people are not allowed to vote on January 19th.
Still, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, during Wednesday’s COVID-19 update gave no indication that the January 19th poll could be in jeopardy. Instead, she doubled down on earlier declarations that the challenges ahead, much like the Omicron variant, must be tackled as “one nation”.
“If there was any doubt about this being a marathon, the news in recent days of a variant coming out of France should tell us that we remain at risk and that there is no telling what continues to lie ahead as we go forward,” Mottley declared.
“We are not even good into Omicron, but we are talking about a new variant potentially. And we are not even good into vaccinating numbers globally in Africa and in Latin America sufficiently, so that we know that the risk for us to have these new variants will continue for some time.
“We are asking Barbadians, therefore, to work with us and to understand that the whole concept of self-isolation puts on you the responsibility to mask and double mask if you have to, but the bottom-line is, do not mix and mingle if you are positive. And for those of us who are moving around as we go around, continue to wear our masks and continue to take all of the precautions,” she added.
Dr Best said that in a best-case scenario, the percentage of infected people needing medical treatment would be 1.2 and up to three in the worst instances.
“Given the high volume of cases, even if you look at the better case scenario of a 30-day wave and a peak of about 1,200 cases per day, it clearly is going to overload our healthcare system,” he said at the live-streamed event.
Officials are once again preparing additional isolation facilities sites at short notice to supplement the Harrison Point and Sunbay Hotel, which are both still functioning.
To minimise the risk of serious illness, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are being urged to take booster shots and first doses respectively, while adhering to all of the other relevant protocols.
So far, there is one confirmed case of Omicron in the country, but according to Dr George, tests conducted on 40 samples at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), would better reveal the extent of any spread.
In the meantime, the CMO declared that cases would continue to be managed through the traffic light system that allows low-risk persons to self-isolate. He warned that nine times out of 10, entire households would contract the virus if one person is infected.
“The whole concept of self-isolation is built on personal responsibility and commitment. We will be there to hold your hand during self-isolation, but what I am asking the public to understand is that because of the high numbers, you will be isolated with minimal medical intervention. We will hold your hand if issues occur,” Dr George explained.