The coronavirus outbreak which has, in a matter of weeks, spread from Wuhan, China, to more than 40 countries around the world, will inevitably have serious repercussions for T&T. Beyond concerns about whether this country's public health sector is truly prepared to handle any COVID-19 cases that might surface locally, there are also possible fallouts from disruptions in the global supply chain, which could affect a range of sectors, as well restrictions on travel which are likely to expand as the world teeters on the brink of a pandemic.
The latest figures on the outbreak show that COVID-19 is far from being contained. According to the most recent available data, globally there are 84,094 confirmed cases and more than 2,900 deaths. The disease has entered our region, Latin America and the Caribbean, with cases detected in Brazil and Ecuador.
Given these developments, preparedness and ensuring adequate levels of awareness in our population is now more important than ever.
So far, on issues related to preparedness for COVID-19, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has been the main government spokesman. The challenge for him is to keep citizens updated on developments with coronavirus in a clear and consistent manner that dispels all the misinformation that is being deliberately concocted and spread faster than the disease itself.
Minister Deyalsingh has had little success with his communications efforts on the swine flu which has caused approximately 40 deaths in T&T so far in the current flu season. His appeals for vulnerable segments of the population to get the flu vaccine have yielded little response—never mind that the vaccine is available at health centres across the country and there are sufficient doses on hand for those who need it, including the elderly and people with chronic diseases.
While there has not been a similar level of public apathy concerning COVID-19, the level of misunderstanding and confusion around the outbreak is something that Mr Deyalsingh and his team at the Health Ministry must properly manage.
There have already been instances of fake news spread via social media, which has caused panic. In the health sector, concerns have been expressed by medical workers about whether they have been adequately prepared and will be supplied with the right protective gear.
It is essential that the facts on COVID-19 are shared, including making all citizens aware of personal and collective responsibilities. Apart from the immediate concerns about detection, protection and containment, clear plans must be developed and communicated as a matter of urgency
The Ministries of Health and National Security and their connected agencies might be the first lines of defence but the important roles of the Ministries of Trade, Labour, Social Welfare, Education and even Communications should not be discounted. The private sector and even NGOs have to be brought on board to ensure full mobilisation to deal with every dimension of COVID-19.
Let's not be caught unprepared