The situation regarding three Trinidadians who recently tested positive for Covid 19 in their home country after living in Grenada for the last four months raises serious concerns as to the effectiveness of Government’s effort to fight the virus here in Grenada.
THE NEW TODAY has carried many articles since late March calling on Government to undertake antibody testing within the general population. These calls fell on deaf ears and as a result, to date, we don’t have a firm handle on whether there is silent asymptomatic transmission of the virus among the population.
After the initial imported spread was suppressed and the young lady tested positive weeks after she arrived on that last flight from New York, it was prudent for local health authorities to do random testing of the general population to determine if asymptomatic carriers were silently spreading the virus in the general population.
The authorities instead choose to focus mainly on testing persons, such as cruise ship workers coming into the country. Therefore, we should not be surprised that there may be silent community transmission among the population now that three Trinidadians turned up positive after living in Grenada for the last four months.
Local health authorities should have considered the Singapore experience where after successfully containing the initial spread of the virus, failed to do extensive random testing in the general population which resulted in a significant outbreak among migrant workers. This virus is cunning and must not be given any opportunity to jump up and spread. The Covid task force dropped the ball and has now placed the reopening in some jeopardy if we indeed have silent community spread.
This should not be our only worry, the manner in which the reopening was pursued is a major cause for concern as well. Experts from Mike Ryan of WHO and Dr. Carissa Etienne of PAHO cautioned countries to put in place strong testing, tracing and treatment infrastructure, robust disease surveillance and public health measures before reopening the economy.
This was not done and Grenada currently has only fourteen or so beds dedicated to Covid. This is woefully inadequate should we have a significant escalation of community transmission and hospitalisations. Do we have a sufficient stockpile of PPEs and supplies in the event of an outbreak? Have we strengthened disease surveillance and train additional contact tracers?
Grenada should have in place over three hundred contact tracers well trained and ready to be mobilised should an outbreak occur. The Ministry of Health and the Covid taskforce did not listen to the experts and have not taken proper action to ensure the country is adequately prepared for a significant virus spread.
Yet the phased reopening was driven by economic considerations at the expense of public health concerns. There were numerous instances of attempts to circumvent current public health regulations to allow investors and businesses to have their way at the expense of public health safety.
The policy to allow charter flights from high risk countries, where the spread of the virus is not under control, is a case in point clearly intended to benefit certain hotels and high priced villas. If the allegation is true that some hotels are against staff wearing mask at work when public health regulations states it is mandatory that is an attempt also to get around the rules.
This situation put our hotel workers at high risk since it is easy for a visitor from one of the high risk countries having to wait up to fourteen days for the results of a PCR test that turned out to be negative to get infected during that time flies to Grenada on a charter flight and unknowingly spread the virus to hotel staff who in turn will bring it to their homes and communities.
Regional countries that reopen earlier than us have recently either banned visitors and flights from the United States which is considered a high risk country where there is uncontrolled virus spread in the case of the Bahamas or in the case of St. Vincent contemplating doing so because of the unacceptable number of persons testing positive after arrival in the country.
Grenada with our weak healthcare system should take heed and must not risk the lives of its citizens.
The breakdown of containment on measures with large number of persons not wearing masks and physical distancing when in public is another serious cause for concern. The number of house parties in certain gated neighbourhoods, instances of elevated music playing in social gathering places where rum is being sold and social distancing measures can’t be properly maintained are perfect opportunities for community spread as well.
Government’s failure to ramp up testing, train adequate number of contact tracers, put in place a strong disease surveillance infrastructure, lack of an effective public education campaign and consistent messaging and, the tendency to circumvent regulations will do us no good and cause the virus to jump up and transmit in communities this time with an intensity that could cause uncontrolled community spread. There is a clear and present danger and the time to act is now.
It doesn’t matter if the three Trinidadians return negative PRC results after the initial positive tests, this should be a wake-up call for the government and people of Grenada to not let their guards down and compromise public health safety over economic consideration. There must be the right balance between public health and the economy.
We are giving this virus too many opportunities to resurge and transmit and time is running out. Considering Grenada is just five months into a global pandemic that usually last for well over one year with various waves, we must not act as if we have won the battle and the virus is gone from our island.
Government should instead strengthen its disease surveillance infrastructure, train an additional three hundred contact tracers, expand the number of hospital beds, have in stock an adequate amount of PPEs at ready should an outbreak occur.
Equally important as well is the need for government to be more consistent in its messaging, ramp up public education on the virus, close all loopholes in its regulations and delay allowing commercial, charter and private flights from the US and other high risk countries until they are able to get the virus under control.
Finally Grenadians must demonstrate more personal responsibility and concern for others by wearing a mask and adhering to physical distancing regulations to prevent a resurgence of the virus. We should all take the advice given to Grenadians in the diaspora and here at home by former national super heavyweight champion Andre ‘The Giant’ Stewart who sadly lost his life due to complications caused by Covid-19, to wear a mask and protect yourself and others. Time may run out on us as a nation if government doesn’t act now.