3017534

An All-Fools’ Day social media hoax about the country entering another lockdown was yesterday convincing enough to have some citizens worried about their Easter weekend plans going down the drain.

But it was no laughing matter when Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, at a Ministry of Health COVID-19 update held outside of the regularly scheduled thrice weekly briefings, shared some disturbing new data on an upsurge in cases across the country.

It was not a hoax that in the last 24 hours three people died from COVID-19, taking T&T’s death toll to 145 and that 46 new cases were confirmed.

This worrying trend, just days after public health officials warned about COVID-19 increases in the Counties of Caroni and Victoria, raises the spectre of a new wave of the coronavirus and another lockdown—something this country can’t afford.

This long Easter weekend, large numbers of citizens are heading to beaches and other recreational spots. That includes the estimated 10,000 domestic tourists in Tobago.

For all of these leisure seekers, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s warning, particularly for those planning to “enjoy the post-pandemic prematurely or just to be generally irresponsible and even destructive,” takes on greater urgency.

Pandemic fatigue may be enticing some to ignore social distancing measures and defy the mask mandate at the risk of many lives and the already frail health of the T&T economy.

There is no room for relaxation of the pandemic regulations. The arrival of just over 33,000 doses of the COVID vaccine in the country is not an indication that T&T is finally turning the corner on the pandemic. These doses will cover only a small number of citizens, so the vast majority will, for the foreseeable future, still be susceptible if its spread isn’t contained.

The situation in Europe, which is well ahead of us in the vaccine rollout, should be sufficient warning about the risks.

Across that continent, the number of cases being reported has forced many countries to either re-introduce or extend lockdown measures.

Germany has extended its restrictions until April 18 and Paris in France is entering a new month-long lockdown, along with other regions in the north and the south of the country. France already has a nationwide curfew from 7 pm to 6 am.

In Italy, shops, schools and restaurants are closed in many major cities, including Rome and Milan, and a nationwide shutdown has been imposed over the three-day Easter weekend, starting today.

An early warning sign of where T&T could be headed is the fact that the latest upsurge in COVID-19 cases has led to the reimposition of the ban on recreational team sports. If the numbers keep heading in the wrong direction, the worst-case scenario of another lockdown looms large.

It could be much worse than the experience of just a year ago, when all but essential services were shut down. This time around, there will be no financial cushion for vulnerable citizens and businesses and it will be much more difficult to weather the pandemic storm.

Therefore, the Easter activities over the next few days should not include flirting with another lockdown.