Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks during yesterday’s COVID-19 media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.

The COVID-19 spike predated the Easter weekend, Technical Director of the Epidemiology Division of the Ministry of Health, Dr Avery Hinds said yesterday.

He said the spike pre-Easter was triggered by a confluence of issues including activities in the weeks leading up to Easter, the reopening of sporting activities and churches.

“Easter weekend and beyond we saw additional increases, but the increases pre-dated Easter and would have been in part related to whatever activities happened before that and then compounded by movement so we had a surge on top of a surge,” Hinds said.

Hinds was speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual COVID-19 update yesterday.

The timing of the surge in cases is of special interest now as it has become a political bone of contention between the Government and the Opposition.

On Monday during the debate to extend the State of Emergency, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said that it was the candlelight vigils and prayer meetings for slain court clerk Andrea Bharatt that precipitated the start of the spike.

The Opposition has maintained that it was Rowley’s invitation to spend Easter in Tobago that led to the surge in cases.

“What we note from our statistics, from our information is that we began to see a week-on-week increase in the number of cases recorded from the start of week 10,” Hinds said. The tenth week was the beginning of March.

“What we were seeing around the weeks of the middle of February was that we had seen 34 cases, week 8, 29 going down, week 9 it started to turn around so it didn’t go down by much, 27 and then by week 10, it started to go up,” Hinds said.

He said that by week 11, on and around March 14, there was an 89 per cent increase in positive cases.

By the next week, March 21, there was a 64 per cent increase.

“So we began to see a steady increase in one week to the next beginning in as early as that second week in March,” Hinds said.

By week 14, which coincided with the first week in April, there was a large increase.

“The movements that would have been taking place at both of those time periods or just before both of those time periods would contribute to additional mixing of a population that has circulating virus.”

“And to the extent that there is any movement and mixing, there is the increased chance of transmission. We saw in the July to August time period, movement and mixing precipitated a spike in the August into September timeframe,” Hinds said.

We had a lot of things going on; the reopening of sporting activities against that backdrop, we had people who were going to church and not well, so we see the driving factors for the surge at that point in time are multifactorial,” he said.

PM stands his ground

Meanwhile, Dr Rowley yesterday said he could not understand why there were questions about the timing of the release of information that it was the candlelight vigils that triggered the start of the spike.

“I could have waited 300 years, it doesn’t change the facts,” he said yesterday.

He accepted that the situation was a sensitive one but said that COVID-19 did not take that into consideration.

“The emotional outpouring is understood, the cause is a worthy one but the virus does not give those considerations a pass,” he said via text.

“Any mass congregation is a threat and when it goes on for weeks and in such large numbers in so many areas the science and the heat maps are the tools of expression,” he said.

“When did I lose my free speech?” he asked.

Meanwhile, at least one political scientist is questioning why the Prime Minister always brought the Opposition into his speeches.

Dr Winford James yesterday told Guardian Media that political parties will take political action. James said that while he did not know whether the United National Congress (UNC) organised the vigils.

“I do not know if she (Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar) was asked if she organised it and what her response was,” he said.

“I can say that every time I listen to a press conference called by the Prime Minister, I notice that he always brings in the Opposition in a bad light, he cannot help himself,” James said.

James said that it seemed to be Rowley’s “political reflex”.

“It is not that he has to do so because there are people who support the UNC and understand the difference between a hollow charge and a serious charge and there are people for who it does not make a difference,” he said.

“The Prime Minister feels duty-bound to bring in the Opposition,” he said.

James said that it was not that the Opposition was without criticism “but every single time, that they have these press conferences, bet your bottom dollar that there would be a demonisation of the UNC”.

James said while it was okay for one political party to demonise the other, sometimes it could be a “little heavy for reception”.

“People like me wonder why can’t this man just simply present the facts, the actual facts just as they are,” he said.

Another 17 die from virus

The Ministry of Health reported another 17 deaths from the COVID-19 virus over the last 24 hours.

In its daily report, the Ministry also reported another 582 people had contracted the virus.

The 17 deaths yesterday took this month’s toll to 256 and the new cases brought the number of people infected in the month of May, to 10,637.

Active cases now stand at 8,710. There are currently 447 patients in hospitals.

According to the Ministry’s data, 75,586 have received their first doses of the vaccine while 1,179 have received their second doses.

There are 207 people in step-down facilities, 180 in State quarantine facilities and 7,474 in home quarantine.