Business owners across the country are noticing a worrying trend of employees lying about their exposure to COVID-19-positive patients in order to cheat the system and get time off this Christmas season.
The heads of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce and Chaguanas Business Chamber say that there is the perception that employees are aware of what they are calling the “long turnaround time” in getting tested and receiving results in the public health system and are taking advantage of that.
“I had a member tell me that she had one or two employees that told her they had been exposed three times,” Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria said on Monday.
Faria said he understands that from exposure to getting results, the process can take up to four weeks, meaning that business owners will be short-staffed during that time.
In Chaguanas, chamber president Richie Sookhai said that trend is prevalent amongst weekly-paid employees.
“Productivity levels in the manufacturing sector are at a low right now, so some of the business owners are forced to bite the bullet and pay to have the tests done privately,” Sookhai said.
Those tests can cost up to $1,200 in some cases.
But Faria said many small businesses cannot afford that, nor a prolonged depletion of their workforce.
“I spoke to someone in the clothing business and they said pre-COVID, they would sell about $1,200 per day and now they sell about $200, which doesn’t even pay for their rent,” Faria said.
However, Faria said if people take advantage of the system and lie about exposure, then they could ultimately have no job to return to.
“You may force the business to close, you may force the business to lay off people, there must be mutual trust between employees and employers, because right now businesses are at the tipping point where they will say this isn’t worth it,” Faria said.
Guardian Media reached out to Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) CEO Ronald Tsoi-a-Fatt, who, in a brief interview, said their protocol does not allow people to simply walk into the hospital and request a COVID-19 test. Tsoi-a-Fatt said only someone showing symptoms would qualify in the first instance to undergo the process.
“We don’t test until four days into symptoms. We don’t test you just like that, you have to be screened and there’s contact tracing to be done,” Tsoi-a-Fatt said.
He said he has not noted any upsurge in non-symptomatic people requesting testing in the East.
Meanwhile, North Central Regional Health Authority’s (NRCHA) CEO Davlin Thomas said, “The total number of tests done are increasing, conceivably the number of requested swabs may be simultaneously increasing, I haven’t seen any study that identifies underlying reasons.”
Thomas said for the period November 15 to November 28, 5,228 tests were done at NCRHA facilities.
The business community is calling for more rapid testing to be done, as well as a system where if a vaccinated person gets infected, due to their low viral load, the entire business operation needn’t shut down. They also asked that Government seek to speed up the turnaround time for testing in the public system.
Responding to that issue on Monday, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said testing continues to be robust in T&T.
“Our turnaround time for PCR is a matter of a couple of days, for gene expert it’s a couple of hours, we are already employing our rapid antigen test, to date we have done 140,000 rapid antigen tests in Trinidad and Tobago that gives you results in minutes,” Deyalsingh said, adding this is considered the gold standard around the world.