Dr Mandreker Bahall, Specialist Medical Officer (Internal Medicine/Cardiology) & Consultant, department of Medicine SFGH.

Two doctors have weighed in on Government’s proposed controlled Carnival plan and have expressed concerns about a spike in COVID-19 infections after safe zone activities.

Public Health Specialist Dr Mandreker Bahall yesterday told Guardian Media that the idea behind the Carnival events does not align with the Government’s Public Health Regulations regarding the number of people who can gather and social distance.

“I don’t really subscribe to having these Carnival events because no matter what you do, there is going to be major flouting of the public health regulations and then too, you see the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister, both of them have both kind of coaxed the population into believing that if you have house parties, keep it at a minimum, try to avoid it during Christmas time, try to keep it under 10 and now you going to have a Carnival events which by nature, whether indoor or outdoor, the reality is that because of our culture we may not adhere to the regulations.”

While Bahall is against the idea of Carnival during the pandemic, he agreed that if there is such activity then outdoor events would be safer than indoor events.

“I feel that indoor gathering might be more dangerous than the outdoor. If it is handled properly, there is less tendency for the virus to spread,” he said.

Bahall said even if indoor events are for vaccinated people only and in a safe zone environment, it would be more dangerous than an outdoor arrangement.

“I don’t think that is enough to control the Omicron virus,” he said.

“I feel having Carnival this year, just like the Easter weekend (last year), just like the election weekend (Tobago House of Assembly), just like the Christmas weekend, it’s going to cause a surge in cases.”

Bahall said the healthcare system also just cannot handle a surge in cases.

“If we had a bigger healthcare system that could accommodate it then fine, you just go in there and know that some would live and some would die but the healthcare system just cannot absorb a surge in cases, especially if they require ICU beds,” he said.

“My fear is that these events, especially indoor events, can be a little more dangerous and would lead to further spread of the Omicron virus.”

Endocrinologist Dr Joel Teelucksingh agreed. He too believed that the already “fractured” healthcare system would break under the pressure of a surge in cases.

“If you have an explosion of cases after Carnival, you are going to overburden your health sector, you are going to overburden an already fractured healthcare sector,” Teelucksingh said.

He said hospital beds and other “dwindling” resources would be tapped further.

Teelucksingh said even the safe zone idea with only vaccinated attendees is not as safe as people think.

“Vaccines don’t necessarily prevent transmission of the virus,” he said.

Teelucksingh said that the criteria to measure full vaccination has also changed.

“With the arrival of variants like Delta and Omicron that evade vaccines, fully vaccinated people can still transmit viral particles and we have been seeing breakthrough infections with persons who have been ostensibly fully vaccinated,” Teelucksingh said.

“We have been told to reduce congregating and reduce close crowded, close-contact settings, and this is a disaster brewing,” he said.

“Vaccines are not magic bullets and neither do they prevent transmission,” Teelucksingh added.

He said close-contact settings usually associated with Carnival are a “petri-dish” for infection.

Teelucksingh said while there is a belief that the Omicron variant is milder, the effects on the unvaccinated, the elderly and those with chronic diseases are still largely unknown.

“They will get sick and have to be hospitalised,” he said.

With regards to the controlled Carnival, Teelucksingh was clear that indoor events were more dangerous than those outdoors.

“If we wait for a reduced transmission in the community then it becomes certainly safer. At present, with this relentless explosion of cases and the arrival of Omicron, which is going to dominate and it is so transmissible, at present, as it is now, that safe zone idea does not exist,” Teelucksingh said.