Ministry of Health Epidemiology Technical Director Dr Avery Hinds.

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There was an increase in COVID-19 infections last week, according to the Ministry of Health, and Technical Director of the Epidemiology Division Dr Avery Hinds. Dr Hinds says evidence now suggests community spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. It comes as the country battles a wave of the Delta variant that saw cases skyrocketing to over 1,000 per day on a few occasions.

At the Ministry of Health COVID-19 update yesterday, Hinds and Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryram Abdool-Richards warned that an increase in hospitalisations is looming. Patients occupy nine of ten beds in the parallel healthcare system (PHS) on any given day.

Hinds said there was a slight increase in cases last week over the previous week. Up to Friday afternoon, 13,365 infections had been recorded. Hinds said an upward trend appeared, but it was not surprising given the circulation of the Omicron variant and he is watching with concern to see if the January total will exceed December’s peak of 20,538 cases.

He said based on current projections there will be increasing numbers of Omicron cases with no travel history or contact with a traveller.

“We know that what we see is probably a fraction of what is happening, so we do want to advise additional caution for the entire population as we now have to deal with this more transmissible variant. The evidence suggests that there is community transmission, and once we see that, knowing how Omicron behaves, basically we are now contending with community spread,” Hinds said.

Doctors admitted fewer patients to the PHS last week compared to previous weeks.

However, Abdool-Richards said for the past 95 days, an increasing number of patients have strained the PHS.

“Let us not become prematurely comforted by this decrease in numbers because it is marginal and also, we continue to see very severely and critically ill patients in our hospitals and Accident and Emergency,” she said.

By yesterday morning, overall hospital occupancy was 61 per cent—435 patients—with 109 patients in step-down facilities.

While hospital admittance had decreased, the trend of people waiting until they are severely ill before seeking treatment continues.

This puts a strain on Intensive Care Units (ICU) capacity.

Abdool-Richards said some people are going into hospitals requiring immediate ICU treatment. She reported that patients are occupying 66 of 80 ICU beds and advised that early admission, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, comorbidities or not, is essential for a faster recovery.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said heading into the third year of the pandemic, COVID-19 has stretched healthcare systems globally. Some hospitals are rejecting patients, but this is not the case in T&T, he said.

While some citizens are calling for more resources, Deyalsingh said what the country requires is more vaccinations and less reliance on Ivermectin. He said there are no more healthcare workers, laboratories, ambulances to spare.

“You cannot keep on adding resources if folks decide ‘I am not going to get vaccinated’ and that is why the conversation has to be, not adding more of this or more of that, but more vaccinations. The more vaccinated a population is, the less demand on healthcare systems.”