The State, led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, has mounted a robust and commendable response to the threat of the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus. Friday’s landmark consensus law-making with the Opposition offers hope of high-level cooperation spanning party lines.
We hope the little spat that emerged Friday following statements attributed to Opposition spokespersons, even after a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader and the unanimous Opposition support for covid19-related legislation remains that way – little and inconsequential. Now it’s time for the Government and the Opposition, to begin strategic planning for the impact of a longer period of lockdown for TT.
TT now has 49 verified cases, a dramatic spike following testing of that group who were brought home after being stranded aboard a cruise ship off Guadeloupe. We should appreciate how dire our situation is when we close our borders even to nationals.
For five days after being exposed, an infected person shows no symptoms at all, but can infect others. The Imperial College of the UK, who participated in a joint evaluation of the infection’s spread in Wuhan, produced a 20-page report (http://ow.ly/vGgP30qrB9j) that supported China’s apparently draconian, but ultimately effective campaign of infection suppression.
What was frowned on in the earliest weeks of the infection’s spread is now the new normal for any country that hopes to limit the rate of infection to a progression that its health systems can cope with. Research into the differences between open interaction and periods of isolation clearly show dramatic infection spikes after people are allowed to congregate on a national scale.
There will be no magic bullet. The most ambitious estimates for a successfully tested vaccine to counter the virus currently range between 12 to 18 months. Even President Trump is finding it difficult to coerce any of his talented experts to take his side that a vaccine is on the horizon.
The commitment by TT to a sustained effort at social distancing and home-level isolation raises new challenges. This is a country that is well served by connectivity. Telecommunications providers have delivered networks that connect much of our nation virtually. Now, we need systems and procedures that take advantage of that capacity to create effective virtual engagements that educate our children and enable the workforce to productively participate in our economy.
The nation’s planning cannot hope for April 20 as a date of release. It must anticipate isolation for months and ensure that all citizens have access to some level of connection with the wider network of information. It must also embrace the reality that we are a restless, instinctively social people who have traditionally sought solace for our troubles in groups. That is no longer possible. There can be no parties, no street limes, no congregations. This has already hollowed out our entertainment industry. It will challenge every norm.
Our political leadership must embrace innovative thinking from all sectors, engaging with thought leaders to demonstrate by example how the nation will cope with a dramatic challenge that holds only dire consequences should we falter.