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Do not throw caution to the wind for Covid-19 is not done with us yet

The emerging cluster spread of Covid-19 caused by crew members of a ship that normally ply the Grenada to Carriacou route but came from Dry Dock in Trinidad is a stark reminder of the fragility of the situation as government continues to open up the economy.

Many of our neighbours including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Martinique are experiencing significant spikes in infections at this time. The situation in Europe is equally worrisome with some countries, among them source markets for our tourism, beginning to experience new waves of infections.

Several other countries with vaccination coverage of over ninety percent, have seen dramatic increases in infections as well. Since October, Singapore, a country with ninety four percent of its eligible population vaccinated has seen a dramatic rise in new cases.

Likewise in Ireland which has a ninety two percent vaccination coverage, infections and deaths have doubled in the last two months. Gibraltar considered the most vaccinated place on earth with almost all of its eligible population inoculated have recently had to reintroduce public health measures to arrest an explosion in infections.

The above situation highlights the need for government to be cautious when opening up the economy and the population not to become complacent as the new problem of waning immunity begins to emerge.

So when I see Wall Street, the area by Green Bridge next to the stadium, De Lance in Gouyave, Options and Container Park in True Blue, and other areas around the country on a Friday night I asked myself, have we as a people thrown caution to the wind?

The government and people of the tri-island state must understand there is no Grenadian exceptionalism with Covid-19, once protocols are not adhered to, complacency sets in, vigilance decline and there continues to be high levels of vaccine hesitancy among the population, Grenada will experience successive waves of Covid-19.

If containment action is not taken immediately to address this current cluster spread the island could see another wave by Christmas. Should this happen or a breach occur at the height of the upcoming tourist season, during late December or January, would the country be better prepared than the last time for another wave?

It doesn’t appear so, there is still no effort to expand treatment facility beyond the number of beds at the General Hospital and other two small hospitals within the tri-island state. Moreover, there is little evidence the Ministry of Health has properly mined the meta data collected during the recent wave to determine how extensive was the virus spread to better understand the level of natural immunity within the population.

According to scientists both vaccine and natural immunity wane over time, however immunity obtained after contracting the virus and recovering naturally seem to decline faster than immunity from vaccination. This has serious implications for the population’s ability to withstand another wave of the virus and the level of hospitalisations and deaths that will occur considering the high prevalence of comorbidities.

According to Pfizer Biotech the effectiveness of their mRNA vaccine weakens after five months. A study recently published in the Lancet found Pfizer’s vaccine had an eighty eight percent effectiveness at preventing infection after receiving the second dose however its effectiveness decline to forty seven percent after five months.

The situation is similar for AstraZeneca therefore waning immunity will further compound the problem should the island encounter a second wave in the coming months.

A breach in health protocols at the port of entry will spread like wildfire in the present situation of widespread complacency, disregard for health protocols, large gatherings with elevated music commonly seen on weekends, in particular Friday nights, around the country.

With the high level of vaccine hesitancy on the island and now the emerging problem of waning immunity, government have to threat cautiously when considering relaxing of restrictions over the upcoming holiday season for they could be playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.

We must never forget that apart from the near collapse of the island’s health infrastructure during the recent wave of Covid-19 infections, Grenada moved from having one Covid-related death in early August to two hundred deaths in just two months.

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According to PAHO, while most countries in the Caribbean have Covid death rates of under two percent, Grenada, Antigua, Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago have higher death rates of over two percent.

As the fast approaching winter tourist season coincides with further opening of the economy, there is a high possibility of intense virus transmission between visitors to the island and local population considering the resurgent virus spread in Europe and parts of North America, our main source markets for tourism.

With this in mind is government using available tools to critically assess the situation and prepare for the eventual second wave?

By now the Ministry of Health using epidemiological modelling and data collected on infections and recoveries during the last wave should have a firm idea of the level of natural immunity within the population. Along with the data on vaccine coverage, the ministry should be able to determine how resilient the population is and plan accordingly for the next wave of infections.

The ministry should not have to wait for a resurgence before it step up surveillance, improve and expand testing to include antibody or serology test when appropriate to do so, and strengthen treatment and care.

Also, as government lift some public health measures that lead to increased social mixing, it is prudent to step up enforcement of those protocols that remain on the books.

Government can’t throw caution to the wind when there is a high prevalence of comorbidity and vaccine hesitancy within the population.

Government can’t throw caution to the wind when across Europe and the world Covid-19 transmission driven by the variants and increase in social mixing are on the rise for as Maria Van kerkhove of the WHO said recently, “when you lift public health and social mixing measures, when you lift the rules around masking and distancing and avoiding crowds in the context of the variant, in the context of increase social mixing, in the context of limited vaccinations, you going to see the virus thrive and that is exactly what is happening now”.

That is exactly what is happening in Austria and Netherlands where infections have risen so dramatic that their governments have had to reintroduce strict lockdown measures, and in South Korea which has seen increases in infections after a plateau for many weeks.

In light of this resurgence of the virus among neighbouring countries and across the world, what is government doing to improve surveillance, expand testing, increase the number of hospital beds and personnel, and strengthen public awareness?

Why are these large gatherings of persons not wearing mask allowed on weekends? Why police officers on the beat not enforcing the proper wearing of a fitted face mask on public transport? Why bus drivers and taxi operators can be seen operating without a mask or just a scarf tied around their face and not a properly fitted mask?

Why has the campaign to encourage people to take the vaccine fallen flat on its back? Is it because the government and we as a people have thrown caution to the wind? If that is the case we must then prepare ourselves for another two hundred or more deaths mostly among the unvaccinated but also those whose immunity, natural or vaccination, have waned.

Mr. Prime Minister, Chairman of the Covid-19 Advisory Committee, and Minister of Health, you all must not throw caution to the wind lest you forget the two hundred souls that recently perished because of negligence and dereliction of duty.

With the worsening Covid-19 situation among our neighbours and across the world please temper the expectations of a nation for the upcoming Christmas season and heighten vigilance, for Covid-19 is not done with us as yet.

Special Correspondent