The New Today

Commentary

Playing cunning political games with Covid-19

The dramatic increase in coronavirus infections, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, in major source market countries for tourism here in Grenada could lead to a second wave of infections in the tri-island state in the New Year. Already, health authorities on the island have reported a slight uptick in infections as the virus continues its rampage in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago.

To date, daily infections in the United States have soared to well over one hundred and ninety five thousand and New York State, home to the largest concentration of nationals living in the diaspora, broke a single day record for infections of forty nine thousand cases on Christmas Eve.

Similarly, daily infection rates are averaging over one hundred thousand cases in the United Kingdom since the middle of December. With the surge in North America and Europe dominated by Omicron it is only a matter of time before this variant reaches our shores, that is if it hasn’t already.

Considering the virus uses humans as host to get around and Omicron is more easily spread than Delta, the winter tourist season will be a huge risk to the island because of the dramatic rise in infections in source market countries. Grenadians must brace themselves for a second wave of infections and take personal responsibility to protect themselves and family.

With a low vaccination rate, just around thirty percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, the island’s population remains vulnerable to an intense virus spread. In addition to the low vaccine uptake a large number of the fully vaccinated have waning vaccine immunity because of the length of time they have taken their second shot and now in need of a booster.

One would expect government, with the situation on vaccination as it is, to step up to the plate and reinvigorate the vaccination campaign before the peak of the winter tourist season. However, government continues to fail in its efforts to implement an effective public education campaign that would help to bolster the vaccination drive.

Although, the Minister of Health would want you to believe government’s response to Covid-19 was successful in actuality it was characterised by a litany of blunders, double standards and implementation of complaisant entry protocols favourable to foreign-owned hotels and high price villas at the expense of public health.

A closer look at the John Hopkins University Covid-19 database shows that Grenada scored poorly in treatment and care of Covid patients with the highest Case Fatality Ratio (CFR), that is how many Covid patients die from the disease, is the highest in the Caribbean and among the highest thirty three countries in the world.

While most Caribbean islands have mortality rates of under two percent Grenada’s hovers around three percent higher than neighbours Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia.

Government’s failure to set up a parallel health system to treat Covid-19 patients have resulted in the deaths of scores of citizens who otherwise would not have died.

The relatives and friends of the two hundred persons who lost their lives, during the first wave, should not allow the Minister to peddle this false narrative of a successful management of Covid-19 response. Rather the question should be asked of him, what has his ministry done to prepare for the second wave that appears to be gathering as storm clouds on the horizon?

Apart from the stock up on PPEs, mostly through generous donations, there is still no parallel health system infrastructure to treat Covid patients and therefore the debacle that occurred at the General Hospital will most likely happen again.

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The vulnerable situation that presents the nation today is similar to what existed last August notwithstanding just over thirty percent of the population are fully vaccinated. When one considers the time span for waning immunity to set in, a majority of the fully vaccinated are vulnerable to infections without a booster.

Having looked at the data for booster uptake which is at a paltry nineteen hundred persons and considering according to PAHO, twenty nine percent of the population in Caricom countries are at higher risk for severe strains of the disease, a consequence of these citizens having at least one underlying health condition.

The Incident Manager for PAHO, Dr Sylvan Aldighieri recently said, the data shows that comorbidities are a factor associated with disease severity.  With Grenada having one of the highest prevalence of comorbidities, within the population in the region, the situation that confronts the island today as Covid storm clouds gather on the horizon is frightening.

As the highly contagious Omicron variant overtakes Delta as the dominant variant in North America and the United Kingdom, the island’s main source market for tourism, one can expect a second wave of infections to be driven by that variant.

The Minister and his sidekick CMO should not take solace in reports that Omicron symptoms appear to be milder for according to Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, “it is probably unwise to sit back and think this is a milder variant, it is not going to cause severe disease because I think with the numbers going up all health systems are going to be under strain. It could still make enough people sick to over burden health care systems”.

The situation of continued vaccine hesitancy, waning vaccine and natural immunity among the population, low booster uptake, and high prevalence of comorbidities presents a clear and present danger that is further exacerbated by government’s continued failure to set up a parallel health infrastructure to treat Covid patients in the event of another wave.

While the Minister attempts to peddle this false narrative of successful management of the Covid response and the leader continues his deceptive approach to vaccine mandates that is to coerce private sector businesses to implement mandates while stopping short of doing so for public sector workers.

The tri-island state is on the verge of being overrun by Omicron in much the same fashion as when the Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

With our closest neighbours, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent now reporting Omicron cases it is only a matter of time before it gets here.

I want to urge citizens to get vaccinated, take your booster shot, wear a proper mask, not a bandana or cloth one when in public, avoid large gatherings, wash hands regularly and adhere to social distance protocols as you go about your daily lives.

Protect yourselves and family for this government will continue to trifle with the population, play cunning political games, for political preservation while the Omicron storm clouds gather on the horizon with thunder and lightning ready to unleash its fury on the population.

I want to take this opportunity to wish readers a happy New Year and may God continue to guide and bless you always.

Special Correspondent