The Mottley administration, which has already backed away from COVID-19 vaccine mandates and future lockdown measures, has been warned against taking shutdowns off of the table as a treacherous tide of COVID-19 cripples the country’s fragile healthcare system, potentially placing hundreds of lives on the precipice.
And with vaccine numbers still well below par, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) has called for “no movement days” and the suspension of other activities to shield the society from total collapse.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best on Thursday warned that the quality of care at isolation facilities even for the critically ill would continue to steadily decline as the numbers of cases increase.
“We’re getting to a situation in Barbados where we’ve maximised resources from the Ministry of Health, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and from the Government. We cannot do any more. We are getting to that situation and that is why I am using the term dire,” Dr Best declared in response to questions from Barbados TODAY at Thursday’s COVID-19 update.
“We are in a dire situation… So when you have a situation like that and it continues to get worse, it will mean that the level of care that we would like to provide is going to go down. It will mean that in some cases persons who are sicker will unfortunately die.”
To explain the scary trajectory of the infection curve, Dr Best revealed that the total number of cases for September totalled 3,500, representing an over 500 per cent increase over August when the total number stood at 689.
This month, the numbers have been even more concerning with more than 1,200 recorded in the first seven days of October including 318 and 300 cases on Monday and Tuesday respectively.
“The challenge is that you have the same resources that were managing the cases back in August, managing significantly more cases and whereas in the past, we had two isolation facilities, we’re now at eight isolation facilities to manage persons and resources are stretched,” the acting CMO explained.
“So even in a situation where we need more doctors to manage, there are simply no more doctors out there who are available or who are willing to come forward and work in the isolation facilities. So unfortunately the level of care that we are accustomed to is going to be impaired.”
On Thursday, the daily dashboard recorded 259 new cases with 1,493 people in home isolation and 657 in isolation facilities tallying the total number of active cases at 2,140. Among the latest deaths is a 36-year-old man, underscoring the warnings that with new variants in the community, the severity of infections is no longer confined to the elderly.
When contacted later in the day, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of BAMP Dr Russell Broomes-Webster contended that at the “eleventh hours”, even the business community, which for months has been emphatically opposed to lockdowns, could now be seriously affected because of the unprecedented surge.
“It is part of the armament and similar to all of the things that we talk about, the restriction of movement should always be something that we can consider if things reach a dire stage and as the CMO said, we are currently in a dire state,” Dr Broomes-Webster told Barbados TODAY.
“Mitigating the spread up front and preventing it, will always give you a better long-term sustainable economic outcome, whether it is by getting a lot of people vaccinated or making sure that if you get a spread of variants of concern that you try to limit them as much as possible until you get more people vaccinated. In some cases, the only way to do it is to be very strict about how people move around and so on,” he added.
As early as July, the organisation had been calling for stiffer measures when it was clear that the COVID-19 Delta variant was on the island. However, the types of restrictions necessary to arrest the situation soon are said to be “quite severe” and would require consensus at the level of the Social Partnership.
The acting CMO revealed that the Delta variant “game-changer” would continue to make containment difficult and predicted that the number of daily cases could inch even closer to the dreaded 500 mark.
Dr Best again expressed concern about the relatively low uptake of vaccines which he said could reduce the severity of the disease.
Dr Broomes-Webster noted that neither vaccinations nor shutdowns would be a quick fix at this juncture. He said no-movement days must be considered as he pointed to the situation in Jamaica where some facilities started running out of oxygen.
But the most telling statement of the day perhaps came from COVID-19 Public Advisor David Ellis as he concluded the day’s press conference.
“All I can say to you is that many people in this country said no to a lockdown and you didn’t get a lockdown. But what is happening here has the potential to undermine this country’s development and its growth and it is up to each and every one of us to recognise the severity of the situation that confronts us today,” he declared.
“The doctors have given you the picture. It is now up to each and every one of us to go back into our communities and into our homes and do the right things.”