The New Today

Commentary

The Government must step up vigilance and enforcement to prevent resurgence of the coronavirus

It is well over fourteen days since the ‘carnival-like’ events in defiance of Government’s decision not to have carnival this year in light of COVID-19. The incubation period for the virus which is the time between exposure, becoming infected, and the onset of symptoms is on average five to six days, however it can be up to fourteen days.

According to the incubation period, Grenada should be now experiencing a spike in infections. The population should not hold its breath, there is little evidence to suggest events like the ‘Jab Jab” defiance two weeks ago and the George Floyd demonstrations in the United States do lead to increase coronavirus infections.

Jab Jab jogging rhythmically, shoulder to shoulder, to the beat of goat skin drums chanting in open air and sun, songs and slogans of resistance may not have put themselves at too great a risk of infection for Covid-19.

Before the ‘carnival-like’ events Grenada had no confirmed cases and if it stays this way for another week or so that will indicate transmission of the virus is minuscule at best within the borders.

The virus did not originate in Grenada, it first came to the island from Europe. Since there doesn’t appear to be local spread of the virus, the island’s biggest threat is from imported spread.

All three Caricom countries, Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, currently experiencing exponential spread of the virus within their borders, have indicated reopening of international travel and breaches in quarantine as the main reasons for this second wave of virus transmission.

The Government of Grenada must take serious note as this presents a clear and present danger to our tri-island state as well. Since the reopening, there have been a litany of loopholes and lack of effective enforcement of health protocols at our borders that have resulted in too many persons violating quarantine.

The recent pronouncement on the number of breaches in quarantine by the acting Chief Medical Officer should be of serious concern to the Government and citizens alike. From all indications, it appears repatriation of nationals from abroad and travelers to the island are the main forces behind these breaches.

I am aware that Government faces the difficult choice of keeping the borders close to contain the virus or open back up and risk transmission. Once the decision was made to open up the economy, it is Government’s responsibility to make sure that stringent measures are in place at our borders to protect the local population.

For once our public health defenses at the ports of entry are breached the virus would spread quickly among the population due to its very infectious nature and general breakdown in compliance with and enforcement of public health protocols and regulations.

There is an awful breakdown in compliance and lack of enforcement of public health protocols and regulations in the tri-island state. This is particularly obvious with the large numbers of persons not wearing masks when in public and on public buses where passengers are squeezed against each other.

Why are the police and public health authorities not enforcing the three persons to a row and mandatory wearing of mask on buses?

Similarly, customers are regularly seen entering business places without mask or are pretending to wear one albeit incorrectly. One of the biggest and most dangerous failures in enforcement are the entertainment venues in the south of the island and community rum shops.

Once the music starts to play and alcohol start selling face mask will disappear or not be worn at all. In most of these places, six feet, physical distancing requirements are unable to be implemented because of floor size.

Moreover, these venues are often covered and enclosed – a perfect mix for spread of the virus with patrons pressing against each other dancing for prolong periods.

Why are the police and health authorities not ensuring that regulations are adhered to? Why are these places not shut down until they are able to be fully compliant with the public health regulations?

Is the Government going to wait until an asymptomatic repatriated national or visitor breached the defenses at one of our ports of entry or evade quarantine and go to one of these venues and inadvertently spread the virus?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica said, in announcing a fourteen day ban on parties and amusement events, the results of contact tracing showed that the current surge in infections are linked to entertainment.

His counterpart in Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley cited a breakdown in adherence to regulations in bars, rampant partying and breaches in quarantine as some of the reasons for community spread of the virus in the twin island republic.

The Government of Grenada should take note due to our weak healthcare system. It is said when one does not have good foot he/she must take in front.

It is high time for Government to step up enforcement of public health regulations and close down entertainment venues and bars that are not compliant.

The way to control the economy is to control the virus. As the number of commercial flights increases in the coming months, Government must engage in full mobilisation of the population through a well design public education campaign and robust enforcement of regulations to sustain the earlier successes at holding the virus at bay.

Government should reconsider the relaxation of regulations on bars, parties and public gathering in entertainment venues.

There ought to be an immediate effort to improve compliance in wearing mask in public and physical distancing in businesses, public places such as markets and other sites where large number of persons gather. Government must put in place strong disease surveillance measures to combat a significant coronavirus outbreak.

The infrastructure for testing and tracing needs to be continually improved and the number of contact tracers increased to be able to deal with a significant spike in infections. Contact tracing, the all important tool used to stop the virus in its tracks, can easily collapse if the number of contact tracers are not sufficient to track persons during a surge in transmission.

The Government must not play ‘Russian roulette’ with the population by opening the economy and not putting systems in place to protect it from the virus.

Pandemics as the one we are now experiencing usually can go for twelve to eighteen months. Even if a safe vaccine is developed by the end of the year it will take many months to administer to six billion people on the planet.

Our leaders must be under no illusions this virus will be around for some time. If history is our greatest teacher the region must learn from its experience with the 1918 Spanish flu.

Grenada and the other English-speaking countries were not affected in the first wave of that pandemic. The larger countries Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were the first to be impacted in the second wave.

The virus was brought to these islands by sailors on trading ships from North America and Europe in September of 1918. The disease showed up in the smaller Windward and Leeward islands a month later in October and by late November it was in Grenada.

The emerging disease trajectory of the current Coronavirus in the region has an uncanny similarity to the Spanish flu of 1918. Although the region experienced infections in the first wave, of the current pandemic, it can be best described as a light skirmish with small numbers of infections and deaths.

From all indications the same larger countries from 1918, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are presently in the early stages of a second wave caused by commercial air travel and repatriation of nationals from abroad, which is essentially trade.

If the disease trajectory continues to resemble that of the Spanish flu, Grenada and the smaller islands should see a second wave in October or November.

However, the Government of Grenada can defy the odds and protect the tri-island state with decisive leadership, proper planning and by putting in place strong disease surveillance and public health measures.

For Grenada to reverse the disease trajectory our leader must be astute as he must be decisive. He must be colour blind with a singular focus on protecting the lives of each and every Grenadian.

Although, he must strive to strike a balance between the economy and public health the life of each citizen must be paramount in his mind. The leader must have a thorough understanding of the emerging ‘new normal’ and a mindset that recognise the economy may never return to its pre-Covid situation because of the widespread disruptions the Coronavirus has caused.

With this in mind the leader must preside over a planning process that prioritise full functioning of the local economy and identify one of two major sectors which should include educational services and some segments of tourism to keep the economy going in the interim until the current surge in infections in the region has passed.

The leader must be able to recognise the distinctive differences in the prioritised sectors and plan accordingly. For instance, Grenada attracts an older cohort of high-end visitors from Europe and we are host to a foreign base university which comprises twenty five percent of our economy.

Both constituents would be sensitive to any widespread outbreak of the virus, much less community spread. Our leader must understand for the economy to function the virus must be under control.

Therefore, he must not make the mistake of his counterparts in Jamaica and the Bahamas and place the economy ahead of the people. Neither must he make the mistake of his counterparts in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and act out of expediency, political or otherwise, and relax regulations for high profile persons to have parties, allow campaigns and party supporters alike to blatantly operate non-compliant businesses. Our leader must be evenhanded in his decision making and governance.

In light of the weak and crumbling health care system in Grenada, the leader must make sure his Minister of Health act now to put in place a strong disease surveillance and public health system.

The leader must also hold his Ministers and other senior officials accountable for any elitist and incompetent performance in addressing matters relating to Covid-19.

Our leader must act now to prevent a second wave that would overwhelm the island’s already weak health services causing suffering and deaths, infection of healthcare workers and disruption of other health services including immunisations, cancer and other chronic disease diagnosis and treatment and surgeries.

Failure to act now to prevent a resurgence of the virus will be a serious dereliction of the duty of a leader at best and criminal at worst.

The leader does not need to impose coercive legislation on the people, he needs to act to cause a significant step up in vigilance and enforcement of current protocols and regulations including reducing the time from seven to three days for a PCR test before travel and requiring all visitors to the island to undergo a PCR test on arrival at any port of entry.

The time to act is now.

Special Correspondent

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