The die is cast

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The government and people of Barbados are owed our gratitude for their humanitarian act of accepting 35 nationals of Trinidad and Tobago after authorities here refused to relax our borders to allow them in.

Having indicated that the discretion to deviate from the policy of closed borders is his, we hope that when the 35 complete their 14-day mandatory quarantine in Barbados, National Security Minister Stuart Young will bring them home in the same spirit of Barbados’ humanitarianism and in recognition of a country’s responsibility to its own people. This latter point was well made by Britain which managed to convince Minister Young to open T&T’s borders to allow its planes to enter and take its people home.

Yesterday’s news that a person who had not travelled but was in contact with someone who had is the first evidence of the weakness of the screening and monitoring protocol for people entering the country. Thermal screening to detect fever in persons arriving from abroad is of little use if the infected individual is asymptomatic or has used fever-reducing medication. Further, the policy of instructing arriving passengers to go into self-isolation for 14 days is almost impossible to manage remotely given the large numbers of arrivants in recent weeks. Presumably, contact tracing worked in this case.

With airports and ports closed, the threat of further external infection is now virtually eliminated. For us, the die is cast. What happens next will be determined by the extent to which the coronavirus is already circulating among us. No one has the answer to this although the picture will begin to emerge through increased testing and patients presenting with symptoms. As the experts advise, we should all proceed on the basis that the person in front of us is infected and that we, too, are infected. That way we are motivated to avoid contact.

Self-protection has become a personal imperative because of the government’s continued resistance to enforcing a policy of isolation. Logic would suggest that our individual risk of infection has been significantly increased by the influx of almost 20,000 returning nationals from countries battling Covid-19 who were not subjected to mandatory quarantine. T&T’s response mirrors that of the United States and Europe where the impact of delaying mandatory measures is now beginning to be felt brutally.

By contrast, India seems to have grasped the absolute imperative of early isolation from the virus and decided not to waste valuable time trying to get people to do the right thing. Locking down the population of 1.3 billion for 21 days is a mind-boggling decision, but given the relatively small number of 536 confirmed cases and ten deaths, India’s Prime Minister Modi clearly decided to bite the bullet and give his country a fighting chance. In this war against an enemy which becomes visible only through testing, and whose path mirrors routine human activity, no nation can fancy its chances by gradually working up to extreme action.

Having opted for largely voluntary compliance regarding self-isolation without a clear policy regarding essential and non-essential activity, Trinidad and Tobago has set itself different parameters for managing the spread of coronavirus. With every fibre of our being, we hope we are right. (Trinidad and Tobago Daily Express)

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