In the wake of confirmation by the Tobago health division of a national returning from China who displayed flu-like symptoms and being managed as a possible coronavirus patient, and who is now quarantined, the time has come for prime minister Dr Keith Rowley to ensure that this country is placed on a serious, urgent national health alert for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19); and that all health institutions are given the mandate to immediately quarantine and treat any person who has traveled from abroad, particularly from the affected countries who display flu-like symptoms.
This after the division of health in the THA issued a statement dated February 24, 2020 (Carnival Monday), confirming that one citizen who resides in the sister isle has developed ‘a low-grade fever and has had to be quarantined.
Sadly, this is a woefully inadequate response to this very serious new virus, which has, in the past month, developed into virtually a global pandemic after having originated in China.
The health division of the THA should have immediately sought to identify all passengers aboard the vessel that the affected national returned on, and then urgently subjected them to the necessary quarantine and testing to ensure that they too, having been exposed aboard the vessel by the passenger in question, were not infected.
This abundance of caution is more than warranted, given the alarmingly rapid spread of this deadly novel virus globally in the past six weeks, where, according to the latest global reports, outbreaks of COVID-19 outside mainland China are worsening daily.
According to website https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ 40 Countries and Territories around the world have reported a total of 80,377 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 that originated from Wuhan, China, and a death toll of 2,707 deaths.
These countries include the US, Canada, UK, Italy, Germany, France Japan, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, and Australia. The World Health Organization has deemed the global risk assessment as ‘high’ and is on the verge of declaring a global pandemic.
Sadly, while governments across the globe are taking very serious measures to counteract this deadly new virus and protect their citizens from its devastating and potentially fatal effects, the ruling Peoples National Movement (PNM) government has effectively turned a blind eye to it, as evidenced by their ongoing deafening silence on the state of the COVID-19 amid a population subjected to daily reports of its terrifying spread.
Recent unconfirmed social media reports of infected citizens and the ensuing uncontrolled panic among citizens on the social media forums reinforce the fact that there is an absence of any real leadership of the ministry of health or government.
The empty assurances by the minister of health, SWRHA and THA’s health division on these reports have understandably done nothing to assuage citizens, nor assure them of their safety, primarily due to the fact that the health minister has long lost credibility due to his woeful, incompetent and conscientious mishandling of the health sector, which now stands at the sorriest state in our nation’s history.
Indeed, with the barrage of inadequacies and woes that plague the nation’s health institutions daily, from insufficient beds, deaths in surgeries, no medication or equipment at the hospitals and long waiting lists for surgeries, citizens rightly have no confidence whatsoever in the health ministry’s ability to effectively treat the potential pandemic proportions of the COVID-19.
As citizens enjoy the 2020 Carnival festivities, they face a tragic, frightening and potentially deadly reality on Ash Wednesday and beyond, as our country now faces the real threat of the COVID-19 virus having already entered our shores, and, due to the government’s indifference, could now spread rapidly and uncontained.
Dr Rowley, therefore, must immediately attend to his constitutional duty to this country and ensure that he takes this matter under his personal purview at once.
He must urgently instruct the health ministry and other relevant authorities to actively update and dutifully inform the population as to the true status of this virus and any possible infections that may have already been discovered among citizens, and also come clean on the status of government’s efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19.
Failure to do this can result in one of the most disastrous and deadly health epidemics our country has ever seen and to not make every possible and public effort to avoid such an eventuality would amount to a serious violation of our constitutional rights as citizens, who are supposed to be guaranteed protection and proper health systems as a matter of law.
I, therefore, call for immediate action on the part of Dr Rowley, for illness and death, as it is said, have no political or class ties or boundaries, and are the great equalizer of all human beings.
I also call on citizens to actively demand that the government takes immediate action to prevent, treat and especially inform us about the status of the COVID-19 in Trinidad and Tobago since failure to do so would truly place our lives at stake.
Tim Gopeesingh, MP, Caroni East
Former Minister of Education