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Dr Asher Williams

A Trini-born biochemical engineer attached to the United Nations is warning the population against flouting the COVID-19 regulations and is encouraging the population to vaccinate, amid a continued surge in the infection rate and deaths.

Dr Asher Williams, a US-based scientist who received the presidential post-doctoral research fellow at Cornell University – a prestigious Ivy League school in New York – cautioned citizens that the virus could rage on if there were no behavioural changes.

“I’ve noticed that the population has not been adhering as closely to the public health regulations as they should. A lot of people have been trying to find loop holes or doing things secretly and that is extremely counterproductive,” she said.

During an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Williams, who has been keeping her fingers on the pulse of COVID-19-related news in T&T, said while the Government has been rolling out measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, personal responsibility is what will determine how soon it is contained.

“A lot of people seem to think that they haven’t been personally affected or they knew someone who had the virus and got over it, but you really have to have a mindset of thinking of your fellow man.”

Williams expressed concern that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy could also prove to be a major hurdle in the country’s thrust towards achieving herd immunity in the six to seven months timeline provided by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

“I know a lot of people have their doubts and concerns about the vaccines. I would advise you to please get your information from a reliable source. Don’t depend on articles you see on social media or WhatsApp. Please don’t make your decision about your personal health based on misinformation.”

The biochemical engineer said based on research, the most crippling situation in the face of variants, rising COVID-19 cases and deaths, is the virus being allowed unrestricted access to an unvaccinated population.

Meanwhile, Williams was also able to analyse the latest data by the Ministry of Health and has found that the origins of the recent surge in cases did not point to candlelight vigils held for Andrea Bharatt as identified by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Guardian Media provided Williams with the graphs used by Dr Avery Hinds in his public presentation on Wednesday.

“Based on the data, I don’t really see a correlation between the dates that the vigils occurred and then the dates of the spike that we’re seeing on the curve which showed up.”

Williams said while the data was placed under a microscope, detailed attention was placed on the epidemic curve, as well as graphs used for cumulative cases and current and projected cases.

The doctor, who was recently recruited by the United Nations as part of their global vaccination project, said her findings suggest that of the two main reasons put forward, science showed no link between the increased cases and the candlelight vigils.

“Yes, there are reasons that ultimately led to the spike we are seeing, but you can’t really single out any one event or occasion that caused the spike.”

The argument of candlelight vigils versus Easter descended into a war of words after the Prime Minister said in Parliament Monday that the vigils led to the current spike.

Opposition leader Kamla Persad- Bissessar has signalled her party’s intention to file a motion of contempt against Rowley for what she alleged was a deliberate misleading of the house on the matter.

Yesterday, Williams said it was also not a victory for those thinking Easter activities were solely to be blamed for the recent record figures.

“Based on the graphs, I did see a two-week gap between Easter and the large surge that showed up, I’m not saying that was the only cause.Of course workplace interaction, I know people were still congregating at places of worship even though they were sick, people were at bars, having private parties.”

The biochemical engineer is now calling on officials to redirect their energies into focusing on ways to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Who is Dr Asher Williams?

Dr Williams completed her PhD in Chemical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in 2020. Her graduate work focused on metabolic engineering of microbes to produce sulfated glycosaminoglycans and related biosynthetic pathway and structural analysis enzymes. In particular, Williams investigated the biosynthesis of the carbohydrate-based drugs heparin and chondroitin sulfate, which are widely used in biomedical applications. Her research focused on harnessing bacterial production systems for making these compounds as an alternative to the traditional and less sustainable animal extraction methods.