The Ministry of Health has confirmed that the country is now recording 85 per cent more daily COVID-19 cases on average when compared to two weeks ago.
Tuesday’s COVID update announced 576 new positive cases and yesterday’s added a further 543.
According to Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh, the increase could spell trouble for the future.
“In 14 days we moved from a rolling seven-day average of 238 to 440. If we continue like this...we go back to the days of 700, 800, 900 cases per day, which is where we don’t want to go,” Deyalsingh said during yesterday’s COVID-19 media briefing.
He said the increase was expected with the recent easing of restrictions but noted they are focused more on the hospitalisation rates.
“With the presence of Omicron, it is more infectious, you will get more cases but they are less severe and that is what we are seeing. So our hospital system and the ability to provide that care is not being compromised at this point in time but we continue to watch,” he said.
This is why, he said, the population needs to understand this and work with the Government and health officials to be responsible and do their personal risk assessment.
Presenting data on the country’s outbreak, head of the Ministry’s Epidemiology Division, Dr Avery Hinds, said the increase is more visible when aggregated by weekly cases.
“From (week) 15 to 16, there’s actually a 24 per cent increase and we are currently still at the start for all intents and purposes of epi week 17,” he said.
Dr Hinds said this week is projected to witness even further increases.
“Epi week 17 is already nearly the height of the previous and if we continue at the current rate, we may end up with approximately 3,000 cases just for the week, which would be about a 31 per cent increase over the previous week,” Hinds said.
His data also indicated the positivity rate is also on the rise. At the start of April, roughly 28 per cent of tests were returning positive results. This week, that figure is at 44 per cent. The positivity rate is an indicator of the level of virus in circulation among the population.
On a monthly scale, Dr Hinds said April is set to record just about the same number of cases as March. This will break the trend of significantly fewer cases being reported monthly since December.
“The rate at which we’re dropping has diminished tremendously, which could signal, basically, what we call a turnaround. We’re changing direction,” Hinds said.
He said this is cause for additional concern and warrants additional caution by the population.
Adding to the troubling news, the more infectious Omicron sublineage, BA.2, dubbed “Stealth Omicron,” appears to be becoming the dominant strain circulating in T&T’s population.
According to Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the University of West Indies’ Faculty of Medical Sciences, Professor Christine Carrington, recent sequences were exclusively of this sublineage. However, she noted the samples sequenced were too few to make broad generalisations.
“100 per cent of the samples that we sequenced were BA.2 in the last week but that was only something like three samples. (The) week before, that was almost 100 per cent - that was about 11 samples. The numbers were small so we can’t draw too much about what’s happening in the general population and the second thing is that the selection that we get is not a random sample and so we have to be careful about extrapolating to the whole population. But yes, you do expect to see this turnover of sublineages as well and right now, based on the evidence that we have among the sequenced samples, the BA.2 is what is dominating,” she said.
The BA.2 sublineage is believed to be the dominant variant globally, accounting for increasing cases in countries like the USA.
In recent days, many have been asking if the resumption of physical classes is contributing to the case increase. According to the health officials, the answer to that is both yes and no. While it is one factor, it’s a part of the overall cause, which is the recent removal of restrictions on movement.
“The trend and rate of increase is what we expect if we basically move from a lot of people interacting people in large numbers to lots of people interacting in large numbers in both the adult and in the sub-adult (paediatric) population at the same time. So there are no surprises here but there is still the need for caution,” Dr Hinds said.
However, with the very real concern of the nation’s children contracting the disease, Deyalsingh made an appeal to parents on behalf of Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
“She asked that parents who have children who are ill with flu-like symptoms, keep them home so you don’t go into the school environment and spread whatever it is,” he said.
Deyalsingh said Minister Gadsby-Dolly also appealed for parents to pick up their children immediately when they are called to pick them up because they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. He said he assured Gadsby-Dolly the assurance the Ministry of Health will assist it in any way necessary.