Commentary

Health Authorities Must Listen

I am not sure that health authorities fully understand how cunning and complicated this virus is.

As a result another perception that the virus is now contained and there is no need to step up action at this time has become obvious. However, we must listen to Mike Ryan, WHO Executive Director when he said that the best way to ensure cases of Covid-19 are on a downward trajectory is to put in place strong testing, disease surveillance and public health measures.

I am not sure that the Covid-19 Response Committee and Ministry of Health have done so. The failure to do what Mike Ryan has said can derail the Government’s effort to successfully reopen the economy and reverse the positive gains made in containment of the virus.

The Government has done a good job, in spite of some hiccups, in containing the imported spread of the virus and addressing the related social and economic challenges.

However their efforts to date can go to naught if firstly a robust testing and disease surveillance system is not put in place to identify, isolate and treat virus clusters that can rise up at any time.

Additionally, they should also pursue random testing within the general population to determine if there are asymptomatic carriers among us.

Secondly, the Government needs to ramp up its public education campaign to further sensitise citizens on the dangers of the virus and the need to maintain social distancing and other containment measures to keep infections down.

Finally, as countries reopen their economies the risk of infection spike or epidemic spread increases and as such Government must have on hand sufficient PPEs, ventilators, medicines and supplies to deal with any dramatic upsurge in infections that could occur.

As pressure continues to mount for relaxation of restrictions and reopening of the economy, government must strike the right balance between public health and economic activity if we are to contain the virus until a vaccine is found.

As I listen to government officials and move around the country, am not certain that we have struck the right balance and economic consideration appears to be given more consideration over public health.

A perception has emerged among segments of the population that Covid-19 has gone away and there is no virus on the island. The prevalence of persons in St. Andrew’s and other areas not wearing masks is frightening.

It is common to hear in rum shops and other areas where people gather that masks are not for us. As one moves about business places, construction sites that are open and other places of economic activity, there is clear evidence of a breakdown in containment measures.

Even banks are asking customers to pull down their mask to reveal their faces for the camera. Banks have central air conditioning systems in their buildings that are known to spread the virus like in South Korea and other countries.

This behaviour and practice are not only irresponsible but dangerous. We are letting our guards down which is the opportunity the virus wants to spring up again. We must not forget that the same UWI Covid-19 Task Force that declared the region has largely contained the virus also said that if containment measures don’t hold then epidemic spread would occur.

A failure to address these three fundamental issues could derail a successful reopening of the economy and can be catastrophic for the health and wellbeing of the population.

The Government must therefore act now.

Special Correspondent

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