Members of the public experienced jitters yesterday, after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that he will be hosting a media conference to address COVID-19 issues today.
Almost immediately, people took to social media to forecast that another period of restrictions was coming, especially in light of the response of many countries to the recent upsurge in COVID cases in China due to the new XBB.1.5 variant.
However, business stakeholders like the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers are hoping PM Rowley doesn’t announce the return of any return restrictions.
Jai Leladharsingh, co-ordinator for the confederation, told Guardian Media the Prime Minister’s decision to host a press conference was appropriate, given recent developments surrounding the spread of COVID-19 globally and here in T&T.
However, he expressed concern about what potential decision could be made.
“We don’t want to anticipate what the Prime Minister will say but we have been looking at the trends happening around the world and in particular in Trinidad and Tobago, where the infections are increasing,” Leladharsingh said.
“It is important that we don’t ignore these things and it has to be addressed but we are concerned about the lives of people and citizens, we are concerned about the well-being of the country. We hope the Prime Minister develops a balanced strategy in terms of measures that will be able to mitigate the spread of the COVID disease and still keep the business sector going.”
Leladharsingh said many businesses around the country were still vulnerable at this point in time, particularly small businesses, after a less than impressive Christmas season on the back of two years with COVID restrictions, including a complete lockdown.
“At this time, Trinidad and Tobago’s small and medium enterprises cannot take another lockdown. It would create more business shutdowns and people will be out of business,” he said.
“The Christmas season that passed was one of the worst where sales have been very low and people have come into the new year not making a profit but a severe loss. Consumer spending has gone down with the whole issue of inflation.”
President and CEO of the Energy Chamber, Dax Driver, meanwhile said the group did not believe any of the current protocols needed amending.
“The Energy Chamber continues to monitor the situation closely but we have not recommended any changes to the protocols currently in place. We encourage everybody to continue to follow the existing policies and we urge everyone who is not yet vaccinated to please get vaccinated and, if you are vaccinated, to get boosted. The Ministry of Health data clearly shows the positive impact of vaccinations on reducing deaths and serious illness from COVID,” Driver said.
Scores of citizens took to social media to speculate about the Prime Minister’s possible actions after a media release announced that the PM will appear along the Ministry of Health COVID response team today.
“Lockdown in we expletive again…it coming,” James Pandohie said in commenting under the announcement on CNC3’s Facebook page.
Another commenter, Candice Adams, also forecast another lockdown but not before Carnival.
“Allyuh going and get the Mother of all Carnivals and the mother of all lockdowns… He coming to say all is well, then on the 22nd of Feb will be as of midnight … Just yall wait… Doh say ah didn’t say eh…”
Commenter Sunita Laloo, however, believed that all that was coming is a warning about the outbreak and the upcoming festive season.
“Whatever he has to say is nothing new, is warning to take precautions for Carnival,” she said.
While lockdowns and restrictions are at the fore of the public’s mind, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh maintained up to last week that the Government was not considering reinstituting such measures to combat the disease’s spread, especially the mask mandate.
It’s a position public health expert Dr Mandrekar Bahall agrees with for the most part, except he believes the testing requirement for international travellers should be reinstated.
“The need is only in far as travel from abroad in particular. The people who coming from China or places that have frequent Chinese visits,” he said.
Several countries around the world have instituted restrictions for travellers coming from China, including the United States, the United Kingdom and parts of Europe.
While Dr Bahall believes similar should be done here in T&T, he does not believe travel should be stopped altogether.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think we should stop travel of people coming into the country because this will bring a whole setback to the economy, to the social system, the emotional system and it will cause more harm to a population that already passed through two years and more of real serious stress at all levels,” he said.
However, he said there needs to be an increased level of personal responsibility among the population, especially heading into Carnival.
6 cases of XBB.1.5
variant in T&T so far
The country’s COVID-19 cases appear to be on an upward trajectory following the festive season, after two consecutive weeks of higher recorded weekly cases, active cases and hospitalisations.
According to the Ministry of Health’s weekly update on Tuesday, there were 406 new cases recorded, eight fatalities, 47 hospitalised people and 206 active cases. According to GISAID, there were also now six detections of the XBB.1.5 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country.
The week prior saw 246 cases, six fatalities, 40 hospitalised people and 159 active cases.
However, the week before Christmas, ending December 20, saw 151 new cases, six fatalities, 29 hospitalised people and 129 active cases.
The current seven-day rolling average of daily cases, now sitting at 58, is the highest witnessed since October 25, 2022.
However, even though the country is seeing comparable new cases to October last year, hospitalisations and active cases are currently significantly lower than then.
Although there appears to be a developing upward pattern, it’s still significantly lower than where the country was exactly a year ago.
On January 10, 2022, T&T witnessed 402 new cases and 16 deaths over a 24-hour period. Active cases stood at 16,169, with 597 hospitalized. In both 2021 and 2022, there were increases in cases coming out of the Christmas holidays.