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A patient is taken from a GMR ambulance into the Caura Hospital, Caura Road, El Dorado, on Tuesday.

As the COVID-19 infection rate continues to soar, the national ambulance service remains burdened with emergency calls, averaging 200 per day.

Paul Anderson, CEO of Global Medical Response (GMRTT), said requests for emergency ambulance services remains consistent as the previous month.

GMRTT provides emergency medical and transportation services on behalf of the Ministry of Health using a combination of station-based and roving ambulance deployment strategies.

Meanwhile, Universal Ambulance Services, a private company, continues to experience an increase in COVID-19 patients requesting their services. CEO Shabiel Khan says that in the past week, they received an average of 25 calls per day from families requesting transportation for COVID-19 patients from their homes to hospitals.

Khan said people are also renting the company’s oxygen concentrators for home care.

Universal’s entry into the COVID-19 market came as infected patients complained that when they request an ambulance, it either take hours to arrive and does not show up at all.

Families who can afford are willing to pay their own cost to transport their COVID-19 relatives to hospitals. Families are also requesting private ambulances for non-COVID-19 emergencies.

One recent issue came around 3 am on Monday when Christine Sumrah went into labour at a relative’s home in Point Fortin. When her family contacted an ambulance to take her to the San Fernando General Hospital, the dispatcher informed them that none were available.

Security at the Point Fortin Hospital denied Sumrah entry as the Ministry of Health recently converted it to a COVID-19 treatment facility.

Sumrah eventually gave birth on the roadside in Otaheite. During Wednesday’s Ministry of Health COVID-19 update, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the GMRTT ambulance was en route while the birth took place. Parasram said he could speak on the capacity of GMRTT.

Anderson told Guardian Media that GMRTT has 48 ambulances, but following proper fleet management, all are never in operation at the same time. He said ambulances also have to undergo maintenance. Therefore, a third of the fleet is usually in reserve.

“We do not overuse the ambulances. We do not compromise routine repairs and preventative maintenance,” Anderson said.

Despite experimenting with different operational practices, GMRTT does not have a dedicated fleet to deal with COVID-19. Anderson said all ambulances could handle COVID-19 cases, and the company has a robust cleaning and decontamination process after providing services to COVID-19 patients. “It is overwhelming, but we are not overwhelmed. I must say the staff has risen to the occasion. It is probably the most difficult thing they have faced in their careers.”

Despite being on the COVID-19 frontline for the past 16 months, Anderson said his staff, although tired and frustrated, remains in good spirits.

“I am proud of how they have risen to the challenge at this time.”