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Closed businessess at the corner of Duke and Frederick Streets, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, on the second day of the lockdown as part of the new COVID-19 restrictions.

While the debate rages on whether the government acted prudently by shutting down the country to just essential services, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says lockdowns are one of the key tools for flattening an epidemiological curve.

Responding to Guardian Media’s questions at PAHO’s COVID-19 media briefing yesterday, Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO’s incident manager, said that public health measures, when strictly implemented and monitored would impact the reproductive rate of the virus.

“Therefore, this will help reduce the number of severe cases and decrease the burden on health services, including intensive care units.

So at this moment of a pandemic in many Caribbean countries and all South American countries, the public health measures, including lockdowns, are the main tools for ending the epidemiological curve,” Aldighieri said.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported that with the increased transmission rate and the number of people needing hospitalisation, the bed spaces within the parallel healthcare system could reach capacity.

It is a disaster in India where authorities report over 226,000 COVID-19 related deaths, but figures could be higher as health officials only record deaths in hospitals. The Indian death toll sores as hospital spaces ran out, and the stock of consumables are low.

Closer to home, COVID-19 patients are filling hospitals and according to PAHO Director Dr Carissa Ettiene, most are under 70 years of age. Ettiene reports that cases are rapidly accelerating in Guyana and across Argentina and Colombia, where weekly case accounts are five times higher than they were around this time last year. She said hospitals are reaching capacity in Colombian metropolitans cities, and death rates jumped by more than 25 per cent over the past week.

Should this happen in T&T, Aldighieri says PAHO developed tools, technical guidelines and procurement mechanisms for assisting countries facing the new peak of transmission. It includes the management of oxygen, the oxygen supply chain, the use and access to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) medication, intubation medication and personnel protective equipment. PAHO also has guidelines for the organisation of health services, including stepping up primary healthcare interventions in order to lower the impact on hospital beds.

Aldighieri acknowledged T&T’s worsening health crisis, saying that PAHO noted the Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh report last week that trends have increased dramatically in new cases.

However, he commended the Ministry of Health for strengthening T&T’s surveillance system, including the laboratory surveillance coordinated by the Trinidad Public Health Laboratory, supported by the University of the West Indies, which carries out genomic monitoring of the virus.

“In Trinidad, there is the capacity for genomic surveillance.”

In providing regional statistics, Ettiene said that over the last week, there were over 1.3 million new COVID-19 cases, with more than 36,000 people dying from related complications. It represents an estimated 40 per cent of all global COVID-19 deaths.

While Puerto Rico and Cuba remain significant drivers of COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean, infections are rising in smaller islands. Anguilla reported almost 70 per cent of its total cases in the last 10 days.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, cases are increasing among people displaced by last month’s eruption of the La Soufriere volcano. Ettiene said more Latin American countries reported more than 1,000 cases per day, and hospitals are fuller than ever.

“We are still in the midst of an ongoing crisis,” Ettiene said.